Though I featured Doris Akers in my book, Sisters in Song, it was brief and it couldn’t capture the entirety of her talent. I have come across yet another song she wrote, both lyrics and music, that is worth mentioning.
First, a refresher: She learned to play the piano by ear when very young and wrote her first song at about age 10. Kirksville Missouri was probably too confining for an African-American woman in the 1940s, so she left for Los Angeles when she was 22. She joined the Sallie Martin Singers as pianist and singer. She teamed with Dorothy Simmons to begin a publishing firm called Akers Music House. In addition to publishing and accompaniment, she wrote songs, sang, arranged music, and recorded her own work. She received the Gospel Music Composer of the Year in 1960 and in 1961. In 2001, she was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Bill Gaither accepted the award on her behalf and in his speech, he admitted to her influence on his own music.
I had earlier featured “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” and “Lord Don’t Move That Mountain” (co-written with Mahalia Jackson) in my book. Another hymn I had not featured was “Lead Me, Guide Me”, written in 1953 at age 31. It is published in 20 hymnals, and versions vary. In viewing and listening to various versions of the song, it is apparent that this hymn begs for improvisation. The notes are meant as guides for the creativity of the performers. And so many recording artists have done just that. It is representative of the first generation of African-American gospel music which included Roberta Martin and Lucie Campbell, whom I have covered in this blog. The hymn is a plea for an intimate walk with God, who is asked to lead and guide the singer. Divine guidance is necessary because we lack strength, we are blind and tempted. Only God can lead us to a full life. Of the versions I have heard, I like the one by Elvis Presley the best. It is found on his 1972 Grammy winning album, He Touched Me, and Presley performed it, along with “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” in his last movie, a Golden Globe winning 1972 documentary Elvis on Tour. It seems so appropriate that Elvis performed it. If only he had found the strength celebrated in that hymn.