By Kevin Rutherford
You know “Glory” by now—after all, it’s been one of the talks of the town as of late, and certainly one of Common‘s most visible hits in some time. The song, written for the film Selma, which follows 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., won the Golden Globe last month for Best Original Song and will vie for the same honor at the Academy Awards.
But its intro music at the GRAMMYs this weekend? That may be another story entirely.
Before Common and John Legend unite to perform “Glory” at this Sunday’s ceremony, it was announced earlier this week that Beyoncé will join in on the performance and in a brief performance beforehand of the gospel song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Now, Beyoncé has her share of GRAMMY nominations this year; after all, her self-titled album that was surprise released in December 2013 is finally eligible and is up for the hotly coveted Album of the Year, among other distinctions. But “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is not a track from that record—in fact, it’s not a Bey song at all.
So, why this song? And why Beyoncé?
Here’s a rundown on “Take My Hand,” and why it’s part of the GRAMMYs program.
–It was written in 1932 by the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey. Dorsey was known as the father of black gospel music, and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” was his shining moment in a career that spanned multiple decades. Dorsey, the music director at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church from the ’30s to the ’70s, penned the song days after the death of his wife Nettie Harper in childbirth and his infant son.
-But the song’s origins go a little deeper than that. Though Dorsey wrote the finished product in 1932, some of the song was appropriated from and inspired by the hymn melody “Maitland,” written in 1844.
-The most famous version was recorded by Mahalia Jackson. Jackson, the proclaimed Queen of Gospel, cut the song in 1956 for Columbia Records for her album Bless This House. Little Jimmy Dickens and the Blind Boys of Alabama are among the artists whose versions preceded Jackson’s. Subsequent renditions have been recorded by a slew of famed artists, among them Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves.
-The song was the personal favorite of Martin Luther King Jr. and was performed at his funeral. Hence the Selma connection. Oftentimes, he invited Jackson to perform the tune at civil rights rallies at which he was appearing. Even King’s final words before he was shot were about the song: “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty,” he is recorded as saying to jazz musician Ben Branch in Memphis just moments before his death.
Jackson sang the song at King’s funeral at his request.
Watch the performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Glory,” among others, on the 57th annual GRAMMYs on Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS. Follow our live blog for the rundown as it happens here.