Thomas A. Dorsey
(1899 – 1993)
Thomas A. Dorsey is the acknowledged father of Black Gospel music and perhaps the most influential figure ever to impact the genre.
Although the scope Thomas A. Dorsey’s influence on gospel music runs well beyond his song writing, he is best known as the writer of the classic songs Take My Hand Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley. He was a versatile composer whose material shifted from energetic hard gospel to hymns. Dorsey was the founder of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in 1932, and a pioneering force in the renowned Chicago gospel community of the 1930s, where he helped launch the careers of legends Mahalia Jackson and Sallie Martin.
A child prodigy, he taught himself a wide range of instruments, and was playing ragtime while still in his teens under the name “Georgia Tom.” During this pre-gospel time of his life in the 1920s, he was a prolific composer, authoring witty, sometimes slightly racy blues songs. After suffering his second nervous breakdown in as many years, he opted to retire from the music business. A two-year recovery period followed, including a spiritual awakening, during which time a minister convinced him to return to music, albeit to move from blues to gospel and the church.
His first attempt at writing a gospel song, 1921’s If I Don’t Get There, had met with some success, and he now returned to song writing with a renewed sense of purpose, renouncing secular music to devote all his talents to the church circuit. In the days before records were readily available to sell, Dorsey resorted to peddling song sheets to make a living. His luck appeared to be on the upswing by 1932, the year he organized one of the first gospel choirs at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church and also founded the first publishing house devoted exclusively to selling music by black gospel composers.