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Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)
The Father of the Chicago Gospel Movement

Thomas Andrew Dorsey is an important figure in black gospel music.  

He was born Villa Rica, Georgia, 38 miles from Atlanta, in 1899. He grew up listening to the great blues musicians who sang and played there, learning to play the piano. He moved to Gary, Indiana in 1916, then to Chicago in 1918. In Chicago, he enrolled in the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging and began playing with local jazz groups and formed his own group, the Wildcats Jazz Band that functioned as the backup band for the great blues singer, Ma Rainey. Thomas used the name Georgia Tom.

In 1925, he joined up with Tampa Red and they produced a song called Tight Like That in 1928. This song was very successful. Later that year, he suffered a nervous breakdown that took him two years to recuperate from. In 1930, he stopped playing blues music and became a gospel musician instead.

In 1932, he put together a choir at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, with Roberta Martin playing the piano. He also established a publishing house to publish the gospel music of black composers. In 1933, he, along with Sallie Martin, Theodore Frye and several others, organized the Nation Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.


Thomas Dorsey with Bertha Armstrong, Dettie Gay,
Mattie Wison, and Sallie Martin in 1934.

Dorsey continued to write songs and some, such as Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley, have become classics. He also continued to inspire and teach and was instrumental in the lives of many. He died January 28, 1993.

MP3s

How About You
Recorded by Thomas A. Dorsey in New York City on March 17, 1932. Vocalion record number 1710.

If You See My Savior
Recorded by Thomas A. Dorsey in New York City on March 17, 1932. Vocalion record number 1710.

Books

The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church
by Michael W. Harris
Oxford University Press, 1992
ISBN 0193090378


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