The controversy makes sense. There are two men bearing a similar name, living around the same time. Thomas Dorsey the big band musician and Thomas Andrew Dorsey musician. I depended on Snopes to help wind my way through this quagmire.
AND EVEN SO.. I still don't really get it. ALL I really understand is that Thomas Dorsey (white guy, big band) didn't write this song. Thomas Andrew Dorsey (black guy, jazz player) DID write the song. The fellow who wrote it did have his wife and son die, and through his grief at the loss of both wrote this song Precious Lord.
It's important to get the names straight.
This is a story that comes from a place of extreme grief. Knowing that you were performing, doing the Lord's work, while at home your wife is dying, giving birth to your son, and having your son die the next day.
Pouring out your grief before the Lord in song....and struggling to come back to him in the aftermath. In the midst of despair, a friend visited Dorsey and arranged for him to be left alone in a music room with a piano. "It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows," Dorsey recalled. For the first time in many days, he sat at a piano using his fingers to browse the keys. Soon, the young artist experienced a personal revival: "I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I'd never heard or played before, and words [for "Precious Lord"] came into my head—they just seemed to fall into place." (source)
Dorsey was raised in a Baptist home, but turned away from the Lord to pursue playing jazz and blues music. Severe illness brought him back to the Lord. Over his life time he composed over 1,000 songs, 200 of which were gospel songs. To learn more, read this page. He died in 1993 and is known as the "architect of modern gospel music".
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Lead me home.
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand: