Anyone can sing "Precious Lord," a song which doesn't belong to either Mahalia or people who pretend to be her

Of all the non-news items stemming from the Grammys which blew into giant controversies immediately, there is one which I hoped might develop into a bigger kerfuffle than it did. I personally lack the star power of Shirley Manson or Beck Hanson, and I don't have anything like the constant, churlish, thousand yard-stare of Kanye West to help move it along, though.

I was a bit surprised that the fact that Beyoncé sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" was not more of a big deal. Not because she sang it, rather than Ledisi, the woman who played the part of Mahalia Jackson in the excellent and Grammy-spurned movie Selma.

Beyoncé even felt compelled to issue a statement about her singing the song, and yes I know this all started one week ago, which in Internet time is what, 50 years? There's even been a few giant awards shows since then.

Anyway. To quote US magazine:

"My grandparents marched with Dr. King, and my father was part of the first generation of black men that attended an all-white school," Beyonce said of her dad and former manager Mathew Knowles. "My father has grown up with a lot of trauma from those experiences. I feel like now I can sing for his pain. I can sing for my grandparents pain. I can sing for some of the families who have lost their sons."

But I myself felt that none of this should be an issue because, contrary to Ledisi proclaiming that the song belonged to Mahalia Jackson, the song has been recorded hundreds of times by artists both before and after the Queen of gospel got to it. Mahalia did bring Thomas A. Dorsey's material, and gospel music itself, to the masses as much as any single artist can be credited with, but as you can see from the videos peppering this post, she wasn't the only one. 

It was cool to see a great, old gospel song be at the center of anything. That doesn't happen often enough in the mainstream.

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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