If You See My Savior

Album: Precious Lord (1929)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • Written in 1926, this was the first gospel hit by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, the "Father of Black Gospel Music" who went on to write "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and "Peace In The Valley." Written in 4/4 time and copyrighted 1929 by Hill & Range Songs, it was recorded by Dorsey himself and his protégé Mahalia Jackson among others. At the time, Dorsey made his living as a blues pianist and composer under the names Barrelhouse Tom and Georgia Tom, performing with Ma Rainey as the leader of her Wild Cats Jazz Band. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England
  • When Dorsey suffered from two nervous breakdowns in the early 1920s, his family urged him to turn to God. He had tried to abandon his secular career before, but was always drawn back to the blues to pay the bills. He had plenty of time to work on music during a lengthy convalescence, and was inspired to write the spiritual song when a neighbor died suddenly from appendicitis. In the song, he bids his dying neighbor farewell and asks him to bring a message to heaven:

    If you see my Savior tell Him that you saw me
    and when you saw me I was on my way


    Faced with his own mortality, struggling with his own health problems and watching his neighbor die, Dorsey implies he might be the next one to "reach that golden city," but the message is also a testament of his faith. Now that he's turned his back on his old life, he knows where he's headed.
  • Dorsey didn't really leave the blues behind, though. Two years after writing the seminal gospel tune, he and guitarist Tampa Red released the raunchy record "It's Tight Like That," which was a smash hit. But his secular success made it even harder for Dorsey to get his religious compositions into churches. That is, until "If You See My Savior" was performed by a supportive – and influential – singer named Willie Mae Fisher at the 1930 National Baptist Convention with a resounding response from the congregation. Dorsey sold over 4,000 copies of the song at the venue.

    A few years later, he formed The National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and his "blues gospel" style of worship made its way into churches across the country. Alongside his gospel career, he continued to write and record under Georgia Tom, with more than 400 jazz and blues records to his credit.
  • Dorsey on coining the term "gospel songs" (from Michael Campbell's 2012 book Popular Music In America: The Beat Goes On): "In the early 1920s I coined the words 'gospel songs' after listening to a group of five people one Sunday morning on the far south side of Chicago. This was the first I heard of a gospel choir. There were no gospel songs then, we called them evangelistic songs."
  • Gospel singer Alex Bradford recorded this for the 1973 album Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey.
  • Dorsey served as music director for Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church from 1932 (the same year he wrote "Take My Hand, Precious Lord") until the late 70s.
  • In 1932, this was recorded as "Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor" by the Famous Bluejay Singers of Birmingham. The Dixie Hummingbirds recorded it as "Bedside Of A Neighbor" in 1962 and the Dixie Chicks covered it as "Standin' By The Bedside" in 1992. Anne Murray stuck with the original title when she sang it on her What A Wonderful World album in 1999.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Gene Simmons of Kiss

Gene Simmons of KissSongwriter Interviews

The Kiss rocker covers a lot of ground in this interview, including why there are no Kiss collaborations, and why the Rock Hall has "become a sham."

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New York

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New YorkSong Writing

Our chat with Barney Hoskyns, who covers the wild years of Woodstock - the town, not the festival - in his book Small Town Talk.

La La Brooks of The Crystals

La La Brooks of The CrystalsSong Writing

The lead singer on "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," La La explains how and why Phil Spector replaced The Crystals with Darlene Love on "He's A Rebel."

Amy Lee of Evanescence

Amy Lee of EvanescenceSongwriter Interviews

The Evanescence frontwoman on the songs that have shifted meaning and her foray into kids' music.

Matt Sorum

Matt SorumSongwriter Interviews

When he joined Guns N' Roses in 1990, Matt helped them craft an orchestral sound; his mezzo fortes and pianissimos are all over "November Rain."

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul AsylumSongwriter Interviews

Dave explains how the video appropriated the meaning of "Runaway Train," and what he thought of getting parodied by Weird Al.