Good Example Of Essay On The Life Of Thomas A. Dorsey
Black gospel music is one of the most influential genres in music history, providing the backbone for everything from blues, to jazz, to rock ‘n roll and beyond. One of the central figures in the development and popularity of black gospel music was Thomas A. Dorsey, dubbed the “father of black gospel music” (Chicago History Museum, 2006). Born in 1899 in Georgia, Dorsey grew up in Tampa, Florida, to a Baptist family steeped in religious and musical tradition.
While he learned from a music teacher in Atlanta, soon Dorsey moved to Chicago to study music formally (Reagon 2001, p. 21). Upon graduating, he worked for Paramount Records as an agent, assembling the Wild Cats Jazz Band for Ma Rainy in 1924, among other acts. Along with noted blues musician Tampa Red, Dorsey (going under the moniker Georgia Tom) recorded the hit song “Tight Light That,” which sold 7 million copies in its eventual run.
Dorsey was one of the originators of black gospel music, giving the actual genre of black sacred music the name “gospel” (Reagon 2001, p. 21). Dorsey’s association with the music was so great that new songs written in the gospel style were known as “dorseys” (p. 21). Moving on to blues and jazz, he composed hundreds of songs in these genres over the years, starting in the 1920s and 1930s.
Of particular note was his influence as the first independent publisher of black gospel music, as in 1932 he started the Dorsey House of Music in Chicago as a means of offering black gospel artists the ability to distribute their music without having to go through the current musical establishment. He also founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and acted as its first president (Harris, 1992).
One of Thomas A. Dorsey’s most famous musical contributions is the song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Dorsey wrote this in the wake of the loss of his first wife, Nettie Dorsey, and his first son in the process. This song proved to be incredibly influential and popular among the musical community and in black gospel culture, having been covered by many artists including Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. The Reverend Martin Luther King numbered it among his favorite songs, and “Precious Lord” was played at his funeral. “Peace in the Valley” was another hit song of Dorsey’s, a popular version by Red Foley being released in 1951 and having also been covered by a variety of well-known artists, including Elvis Presley.
Thomas Dorsey was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity (one of the predominant African-American fraternities in the world) – in 1948, he was initiated into the Gamma Omicron Chapter of Minden, LA. He remained a member of the fraternity until his death on January 23, 1993 at the age of 93, entering into the Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi. He is interred at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, the same city where he created a new genre of music that influenced so much of the music that came after (Harris, 1992).
Thomas A. Dorsey’s influence on gospel music and American popular music in general is immense and cannot be overlooked, from his own talents as a performer and songwriter to his efforts to facilitate independent distribution for struggling black artists in a new genre. From his humble beginnings in Atlanta, to his accomplishments in Chicago, to the hundreds of songs written in his nearly century-long lifespan, Thomas A. Dorsey is a figure that is hugely important to black culture and American culture as a whole.
Chicago History Museum (February 2006). Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey – The Father of Gospel
Music. Chicago History Museum. Retrieved from http://www.chicagohs.org/aboutus/from-the-president/portraits/dorsey.
Harris, M.W. (1992). The rise of gospel blues: the music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban
Church. Oxford University Press.
Reagon, B.J. (2001). If you don’t go, don’t hinder me: the African American sacred song
tradition. University of Nebraska Press.