Home History of Hymns: "Give Me a Clean Heart"

History of Hymns: "Give Me a Clean Heart"

"Give Me a Clean Heart"
Margaret P. Douroux
The Faith We Sing, No. 2133

Margaret P. Douroux

Give me a clean heart
so I may serve thee.
Lord, fix my heart so that I
may be used by thee.
For I'm not worthy
of all those blessings.
Give me a clean heart,
and I'll follow thee
.*

As Ash Wednesday approaches, congregations participating in this solemn observance that signals the beginning of Lent will undoubtedly read from Psalm 51:9-12:

"Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit."

A song that captures the essence of the confessional spirit of Ash Wednesday both in its text and music is Margaret Pleasant Douroux's "Give Me a Clean Heart," inspired by Psalm 51:10. The Faith We Sing contains only the refrain. Dr. Douroux also has written stanzas to this refrain.

A Californian, Dr. Douroux (b. 1941) is a pioneer in the gospel music tradition. "Give Me a Clean Heart" (1970) was her first composition. More than 200 have followed.

Dr. Douroux comes from a family that appreciated gospel music. In an interview granted in 2005, she notes that "both my father and mother, Rev. and Mrs. Earl A. Pleasant, are mentioned in the Smithsonian Archives as being pioneers of West Coast Gospel Music. They were my strongest mentors."

Her father was a singer who toured with Mahalia Jackson. Following this Mr. Pleasant founded the Mount Moriah Baptist Church near the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Her mother, Olga, took on musical leadership at the church, organized choirs and taught all six children -- five daughters and one son -- to play the piano.

Margaret was a shy organist, but took on more choral leadership in the 1960s, eventually succeeding her mentor at the church, Thurston G. Frazier. When she wrote her first song, "Give Me a Clean Heart," Frazier introduced it at a national gospel song convention where it took off.

V. Michael McKay, a well known gospel song writer and performing artist whose work has been recognized with DOVE awards in gospel music, has known Dr. Douroux for many years. He spoke to this writer about the specific conditions that led to the composition of "Give Me a Clean Heart."

"It was composed soon after Margaret's father had died," Mr. McKay said. "Even though he had founded Mount Moriah Church, many people had been unkind to the family after his death, wanting them to move out of the manse with no place to go. In her prayers to God, she asked how she might respond to the ungratefulness of the congregation. Dr. Douroux heard God's response: 'God said that he would give me a clean heart.'"

Mr. McKay notes that her advice to him at times in his life has been, "Michael, guard your heart. Let it reflect the heart of God."

Dr. Douroux holds a bachelor's degree in music from California State University, Los Angeles, and masters and doctoral degrees in education, working as an educational psychologist in the Los Angeles schools. She has been honored by the McDonald's Corporation with the Golden Circle Award for Lifetime Achievements made to Gospel Music.

As the founder and CEO of the non-profit The Heritage Musical Foundation (www.hmrgospel.com), she has taken up the cause of promoting and preserving the African-American gospel music tradition with zeal. She is fond of saying: "Classical music has Carnegie Hall, country music has the Grand Ole Opry. Gospel music needs a museum and theater: the Gospel House."

Though progress has been slow in realizing her vision, she remains undaunted recognizing the need for an institution that informs and preserves the ways in which black music has mirrored the history of African Americans.

"The music of black America changed according to the landmark changes in the culture," says Dr. Douroux. "When we were slaves, we sang a slave song that originated mostly from the pain of slavery. . . . When we learned to read and write, we sang an educated song from the hymnbook. First, we sang the hymn imitating the European style. Then, we added our own black music flavor. When black America marched for freedom, we sang freedom songs based on songs from the black church. . . . The contemporary song includes Traditional Gospel to Hip-Hop. . . . Black church sacred music always sings according to what is happening in the culture. We sing according to where we are."

Dr. Hawn is director of the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology.

*(c) 1970 Margaret P. Douroux. Used by permission.