Charles Albert Tindley, author of "Leave It There," wrote many famous gospel songs including his most famous "I'll Overcome Someday," which was modified and used as the anthem "We Shall Overcome" for the civil rights movement in the '60s. He was born a slave and grew up to be the pastor of a large Philadelphia church.
The song encapsulates one of the strongest and most appealing elements in Christian theology: the idea that God can relieve personal suffering. I first heard that message in sermons in my youth when I didn't really know what suffering or having personal burdens really meant.
I don't mean I had an idyllic youth. I had my share of teen age angst like most all of us. At the time, it seemed like the weight of the world was coming down on me. But, compared to later developments, those little heartbreaks now seem trivial. With age, of course, we all learn about real suffering. And we learn that money, power, influence, contacts--none of that stuff protects you.
The simple concept in the song is, if you tell God what's bothering you, lay it on Him, your mind will be cleared and you will be at ease with yourself. The song doesn't mention forgiveness, but I think it's implied in the concept. In Catholicism I think the confessional embodies this idea. Among protestants, I think the idea is, that you can approach God directly through prayer.
I would hazard a guess (it's a guess only, I certainly don't have any statistics on this) that this concept has probably been involved in more conversions or "rebirths" than all the priests and pastors in the world combined.
Yeah, even a grizzled old skeptic like me can still understand and appreciate the power of this idea. Okay, sermon's over. Back to the song that expresses this concept.
Washington Phillips recorded a version of the song between 1927 and 1929; it's an interesting take because of Phillips' interpretation of the lyrics and his unusual "mystery" instrument. You can read more about this instrument and the speculation as to what it is on Wikipedia.
There are many other enjoyable versions of the song on You Tube, but there's one that really sounds different from all the others. It's by gravel voiced Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945). Blind Willie, who sang and preached on the streets, was poor all his life. He died of malarial fever shortly after his house burned in 1945.
Lucky for us, somebody got Willie into the recording studio, and he made several gospel blues recordings between 1927-1930. Because of those recordings, Blind Willie had a tremendous influence on all of his contemporary black gospel singers and those who came after him. The recordings also had a profound impact on American popular rock music. Many performers from Led Zepplin to Bob Dylan have cited his influence on their work. And perhaps most famously, his recording of "Dark Was the Night" was one of those chosen to be placed on both Voyager spacecraft which are now heading out into deep space.
One of the songs he recorded in those sessions from '27-'30 was "Leave It There." Here's Blind Willie's version of this old gospel tune.