There’s something everyone should know when considering and analyzing Beyonce’s Grammy performance of Thomas Dorsey‘s gut-wrenching gospel staple “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
It’s this: The song was written after Dorsey’s wife and newborn baby died and he writhed in pain, begging God to take even a piece of the hurt away. And anyone who is familiar with the African-American church — funerals in particular — has heard this song sung with a gut-punch. It’s not upbeat. It’s not fast. Rather, it’s poignant and intended to show how God does heal the singer and, as many in the black church might say, it offers proof of the “comforter” of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not a song to be sung lightly or without consideration. And that’s why there is a schism between those who appreciated Beyonce’s literal, angel-in-a-see-through-dress translation of the song and those who preferred Ledisi’s rendition (as Mahalia Jackson) in the movie “Selma.”
Beyonce also swiftly came online today to post a video explaining why she asked to sing the song. Being that Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church is the home of Dorsey and the birthplace of gospel music, it is only fair that local musicians and ministers weigh in on the controversy.
Grammy-nominated gospel producer Percy Bady, who sits on the local Grammy chapter, says he woke up to a Facebook timeline chock-full of judgments. “The concern is this: Look, this is a staple for us who grew up in the black church,” says the well-known producer who has years in the industry and is the minister of music for New Life Covenant Church. “And, coming out of Pilgrim Baptist Church here in Chicago, there’s a reverence that we have. No disrespect to Beyonce; she can sing anything. But, her rendition of ‘Precious Lord’ did not move me. It’s one of those songs you sing from another place.”
He goes on. “I saw it for what it was: She performed. I wasn’t expecting to be slain in the spirit and wallowing on the floor or anything. It almost makes you wonder if this was a situation where the Grammys said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna d0.'”
Bady is not alone. Many of Chicago’s Facebook pundits are saying they believe Beyonce really sang the song because that’s the only way the Grammys could get the superstar to show up for the telecast. The official word, however, from John Legend, is that Beyonce asked, and he and Common said yes.
Regardless. It’s the talk of the town for churchfolk everywhere. The memes alone — some of them using Jackson’s image — are to die for. And of course Black Twitter very quickly created the hashtag #beysus, which was trending by midafternoon the day after the show.
“It wasn’t a bad performance,” says Walt Whitman, founder of the Soul Children of Chicago. “It wasn’t like she was horrible, but maybe it wasn’t the power piece that would best represent that piece of music.”
But, says Whitman, there’s the political side of the performance as well. “There’s so many different levels to this that you’re dealing with. You had all those gospel artists in the room and any one of them could have killed it, but you chose not to. And in some cases, I believe they just don’t know. We’re making assumptions that the people [who produce] the Grammys know about anointing.”
And here’s Whitman’s clincher: “We’re not dealing with church. We’re dealing with people who do music as a profession, and they are looking at numbers and the bottom line for the TV show.”
The general consensus of those interviewed here is that Queen Bey was not there to bring people to God — and perhaps it was unfair to expect that she might. She’s a secular, not a gospel, artist. “Beyonce did what Beyonce does: She performed,” says singer and Deacon Joi Buchanan-Johnson, also one of the conductors for the woman’s choir at Trinity United Church of Christ. “There is a difference between performance and ministry. If you’ve heard the song, you know it was a song that comforted you. And visually [she] has this semi-see-through dress on. Beyonce is a performer to her bone.”
Other pundits say the entire incident — including a so-called “snub” against singer Ledisi, who portrayed Mahalia Jackson and sang “Precious Lord” in the movie — was contrived in order to get more people to talk about the controversy and increase ratings. And on that end, all agreed that Ledisi was gracious in her response to ET’s Kevin Frazier when asked about it:
“What I will say and what I’m excited about is that I had the pleasure of playing an iconic figure in ‘Selma,’ and the song, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord,’ it’s been going on forever — starting with the queen, Mahalia [Jackson], the queen of soul Aretha Franklin,” said the soul singer. “Then, I was able to portray and sing my version of the song, and now we have Beyoncé. Her generation will now know the song, so I’m a part of history.”