This song is credited to the renowned father of gospel music, Thomas Andrew Dorsey, not to be confused with the Big Band leader Tommy Dorsey of the same era. The earliest known recording was made on February 16, 1937, by the Heavenly Gospel Singers. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorite song, and he often invited gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to sing it at civil rights rallies to inspire the crowds; at his request she sang it at his funeral in April 1968. Opera singer Leontyne Price sang it at the state funeral of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in January 1973, and Aretha Franklin sang it at Mahalia Jackson's funeral in 1972.
Dorsey wrote this song in response to his inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son, in August 1932. The pain and weariness of great loss permeates the song, but in the style of spirituals over the ages, it is underpinned by a strong sense of hope that the ultimate destination lies in the future – “home”.
A simple prayer.