Before getting into the life of Dorsey, let's give credit where it's due! Without Thomas Dorsey, there would be no Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Whitney Houston or Kirk Franklin. Thomas Dorsey was a man who found himself conflicted between the work of man and the work of God. By obeying the voice of God and utilizing his gifts, he revolutionized sacred church music and created a new genre of music known as gospel.
Thomas Dorsey was born in Villa Roca, Georgia on July 1, 1899.
His father was an itinerant preacher and his mother was the church organist. Together they produced what is now known as the father of gospel music.
The father of gospel music attained his education from the classrooms of Villa Roca. As the child of a preacher, Thomas attended elementary school where he learned academics and observed the benefits associated with being the child of a preacher.
Watching his father preach was a lesson for Thomas. As all good preachers of his time, his father explored the use of “call and response.” This is where the preacher makes a statement and the congregants respond. By age of eight, he learned to play the organ from his mother.
Thomas later learned the syncopations of blues and jazz when he visited night clubs of Atlanta, where musicians taught him their techniques for playing the piano.
To establish his musical career, the father of gospel music eventually left Atlanta and moved to Chicago, the epicenter of jazz and blues. There he learned to master piano playing.
Thomas’s love for music took him outside the church to the jazz and blues halls of Chicago. His childhood Christian teachings conflicted with his striving in secular world where he made a living for himself playing at rent parties and composing blues songs.
Dorsey's mother often advised him to stop playing secular music and “serve the Lord.” However, he ignored her pleas and at twenty- one years old found himself playing for Ma Rainey, a noted blues performer. His talents also led him to a position as arranger for the Chicago Music Publishing, Inc and Vocalion Records.
Dorsey’s skills were in high demand at night. During the day he worked other jobs and continued to use any spare time he had to study music. Working around the clock, Dorsey had been drowned with blues until he reached a point in his life when he could not produce lyrics or music. In fact, he did nothing at all. He no longer practiced, composed or performed. The doctors called it a nervous breakdown and Dorsey called it a “God interruption.” Forcing him to commit to gospel music.
Dorsey then composed, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” his most famous gospel classic sung in churches across America. Dorsey always believed that this song came from God himself. Later, Dorsey organized one of the first gospel choirs and he also founded the first gospel publishing house by African American composers. This in turn, nationalized gospel music.
Thomas Dorsey, revolutionized sacred church music and created gospel.