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Sat, 07.01.1899

Thomas Dorsey, Gospel Composer born

Dorsey in 1939

*Thomas Dorsey was born on this date in 1899. He was a Black pianist, arranger, and composer.

Born in Villa Rica, Georgia, Thomas Dorsey was regularly exposed to Black spirituals and hymns as a child.  In 1908, the family moved to Atlanta, where he learned to play the piano by watching pianists at a vaudeville theater on Decatur Street.  After teaching himself to read music, Dorsey left Atlanta and traveled to Chicago in 1916.

On October 9, 1920, he copyrighted his first blues composition; If You Don't Believe I'm Leaving, You Can Count the Days I'm Gone. In April 1924, Dorsey became a piano player and director of Ma Rainey's Wild Cat Jazz Band.  After suffering from incapacitating depression starting in 1926, Dorsey underwent a spiritual conversion in 1928.  However, the financial lure of commercial secular music convinced Dorsey to begin composing and playing the blues.  After Dorsey's wife and child died in 1932, he forsook the blues.  Stricken with grief, Dorsey sat at his piano to console himself and composed Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

The 1930s were Dorsey's most prolific era.  Mahalia Jackson and Dorsey toured together until 1944.  The Jackson-Dorsey combination ushered in the Golden Age of gospel music, during which many artists achieved their first success with a Dorsey song, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Elvis Presley among them.  Dorsey composed over 1000 songs in his lifetime, half of which were published. Countless gospel performers achieved their first success singing Dorsey's music.  Thomas Dorsey, known as the "Father of Gospel Music," died in 1993.

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Gospel Music

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ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
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