Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey is a musician who got his start in different blues groups in the South and into the Chicago area. It would be his background in blues coupled with traditional Black church hymns formed gospel. As a result, he is known as the ”Father of Black Gospel Music.”
Born July 1, 1899, in Villa Rica, Georgia, he was the child of a minister and a piano teacher and learned the piano very early. Thomas A. Dorsey would study music in Chicago during the early 1920s and become a part of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. At the time, the blues scene in the city was bustling, making it a prime place for a self-taught or classically trained musician. His musical background and education resulted in a job as an agent with Paramount Records.
During this period, he applied his piano background to blues music and performed at parties as Barrelhouse Tom and Texas Tommy. He would achieve most of his success in the industry as Georgia Tom. His duo with Tampa Red resulted in the popular 1928 recording of “It’s Tight Like That,” one of a number of early dirty blues tunes. The song would go on to become a huge hit selling seven million copies.
In the time he was heavily involved with blues and jazz he was either featured in, wrote, or performed session work for hundreds of songs. Thomas Dorsey’s gospel career started around the same time he entered the blues scene.
While his gospel offering didn’t get the same label attention as his blues and jazz work, Dorsey did perform at the 1930 National Baptist Convention and served as bandleader. He formed his own gospel music label as a result of industry pushback to the genre called Dorsey House of Music.
In addition to this, he established a gospel choir for his performances and co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses where he served as the first president in 1933. The organization served—and continues to serve—as a union for choirs throughout the U.S.
Following the death of his wife and wardrobe mistress, Nettie and their son in 1932, Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” considered to be one of the major songs in gospel. Five years later, he worked with Mahalia Jackson in writing “Peace in the Valley,” another extremely well-known gospel song. The peak of the song’s reach came with Elvis Presley’s performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957.
Later Life and Honors
In 1982, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey would pass away on January 23, 1993 in Chicago. In 2018, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018 but his influence is felt beyond blues, jazz, and gospel in performers who grew up on his music or discovered it.
–Discussing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiehRFbpwlk
-”Precious Lord, Take My Hand”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HNZNvlhlN4
-as Georgia Tom “Maybe It’s The Blues”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4yCKOM7BXM