Tribute to Thomas A. Dorsey (1899 – 1993)

October 28th, 2010 by Black Gospel Choir

Known as "the father of gospel music". Earlier in his life he was a leading blues pianist known as Georgia Tom.Dorsey’s father was a minister and his mother a piano teacher. He learned to play blues piano as a young man. After studying music formally in Chicago, he became an agent for Paramount Records. He put together a band for Ma Rainey called the "Wild Cats Jazz Band" in 1924.

He started out playing at rent parties with the names Barrelhouse Tom and Texas Tommy, but he was most famous as Georgia Tom. As Georgia Tom, he teamed up with Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker) with whom he recorded the raunchy 1928 hit record "Tight Like That", a sensation, selling seven million copies. In all, he is credited with more than 400 blues and jazz songs.

Personal tragedy led Dorsey to leave secular music behind and began writing and recording what he called "gospel" music. He was the first to use that term. His first wife, Nettie, who had been Rainey’s wardrobe mistress, died in childbirth in 1932 along with his first son. In his grief, he wrote his most famous song, one of the most famous of all gospel songs, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord".

Unhappy with the treatment received at the hands of established publishers, Dorsey opened the first black gospel music publishing company, Dorsey House of Music. He also founded his own gospel choir and was a founder and first president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.

His influence was not limited to African American music, as white musicians also followed his lead. "Precious Lord" has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Clara Ward, Roy Rogers, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, among hundreds of others. It was a favorite gospel song of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was sung at the rally the night before his assassination, and at his funeral by Mahalia Jackson, per his request. It was also a favorite of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who requested it to be sung at his funeral. Dorsey wrote "Peace in the Valley" for Mahalia Jackson in 1937, which also became a gospel standard. He was the first African American elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and also the first in the Gospel Music Association’s Living Hall of Fame.
He died January 23, 1993 in Chicago, Illinois and was interred there in the Oak Woods Cemetery.

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One Response

  1. Howard Scott Says:

    This year our Gospel Festival is part of the Bicentennial Celebration of Norristown, Pennsylvania. The festival is a tribute to Thomas A. Dorsey “Father of Gospel Music” – Church Choirs, soloists, spiritual dancers, are invited to perform on stage at Elmwood Park. Notable, well known and up and coming artists from as far as the Carolina’s are scheduled to grace the stage. A family fun –filled event with free inflatable rides for our children. A variety of food vendors and many merchandise vendors will join in the celebration from noon til dusk on Saturday, June 23rd. For more information visit or call 973-332-7626. Performers call 484-684-6540 or fax profile to 1-877-261-7134. Another TLG production.

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