Akosua Report: Remembering ‘Father of Gospel’ Thomas A. Dorsey

The 'Father of Gospel Music' Thomas A. Dorsey.  (Photo: Google Images)

The ‘Father of Gospel Music’ Thomas A. Dorsey.
(Photo: Google Images)

“There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me”
Lyrics – “Peace in the Valley” — Thomas A. Dorsey

Thomas A. Dorsey was an African American pianist, arranger and composer, known as the “Father of Gospel Music.”

Dorsey composed over 1000 songs in his lifetime, half of which were published. Countless gospel performers achieved their first success singing Dorsey’s music. Commonly known as “Tommy”, Dorsey was born in Villa Rica, Georgia where he was regularly exposed to spirituals and Baptist hymns as a child. In 1908, the family moved to Atlanta, where Dorsey learned to play the piano by watching pianists at a vaudeville theater on Decatur Street. After teaching himself to read music, Dorsey left Atlanta and traveled to Chicago in 1916.

He copyrighted his first blues composition, “If You Don’t Believe I’m Leaving, You Can Count the Days I’m Gone,” on October 9, 1920. In April 1924, Dorsey became piano player and director of Ma Rainey’s Wild Cat Jazz Band. After suffering from incapacitating depression starting in 1926, Dorsey underwent a spiritual conversion in 1928. However, the financial lure of commercial secular music convinced Dorsey to begin composing and playing the blues.

After Dorsey’s wife and child died in 1932, he forsook the blues. Stricken with grief, Dorsey sat at his piano to console himself and composed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” The 1930s were Dorsey’s most prolific era. He is credited with composing the 1928 hit “Tight Like That” which sold seven million copies. Dorsey became the music leader of two churches in the early 1930s and in 1937 wrote “Peace in the Valley.”

Eventually Mahalia Jackson and Dorsey began touring together — a performance union that lasted until 1944. The Jackson-Dorsey combination ushered in the Golden Age of gospel music during which many artists achieved their initial success. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Elvis Presley were among those whose fame began with a Dorsey tune. Dorsey was the first African American elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979 and in 1982 was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Living Hall of Fame. Thomas Dorsey died in January of 1993 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

He was posthumously inducted into the Gennett Record Walk of Fame in 2007. “The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church” was published in 1992.

The Akosua Report: Facts on The African Diaspora, is written by Akosua Lowery. Follow her on Twitter @AkosuaLowery.

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