Thomas A. Dorsey was a thriving blues musician who was struck by tragedy in the thirties, thus inspiring him to focus primarily on religious music. Known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” the Georgia native was born on July 1st, 1899.
Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born in the town of Villa Rica to a minister father and piano teacher mother, who taught him the instrument. Dorsey left home to become a professional session musician, much to the chagrin of his parents. He began studying formally at the Chicago College of Composition and Arrangement in order to obtain union scale wage as a musician in the city.
From that point on, Dorsey found measurable success as a performer and songwriter, and he began penning songs about God and faith in the early ‘20s. In 1924, his knowledge of blues music pushed him to organize a band for Ma Rainey while also continuing to record songs himself.
In August 1932 while away working, Dorsey received horrible news that his wife and child died in childbirth. Wrecked by the news, Dorsey, in interviews, said God led him to the piano where he penned “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” which has become his best-known work. The song has been performed masterfully by the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and in modern times by Ledisi for the “Selma” soundtrack. It was said to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite song.
As gospel grew in scope and popularity, in particular the blues-influenced style Dorsey introduced to the masses, he began traveling the nation organizing choirs and teaching chorus arrangements. This inspired Dorsey to establish the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, serving as its president for six decades.
Dorsey was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1982, and he was also the first African-American elected to enter the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition, Dorsey is the first African-American inducted to the Gospel Music Association’s Living Hall of Fame. His papers, including his writings, are preserved by Fisk University.
Dorsey passed in 1999.
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