Thomas Dorsey

(1899 – 1993)

Hailed as the "father of Gospel music," composer and pianist Thomas Dorsey was responsible for writing many of the genre's best-known standards, including songs widely recorded by secular artists. He is credited with creating much of the template for 20th century African-American gospel music, incorporating Jazz and Blues rhythms that had previously not been a part of the genre. Dorsey also played a key role in the early career of Mahalia Jackson, working with her as songwriter and accompanist for 14 years. His composition "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (which he wrote after his wife and newborn son died in childbirth) became Jackson's signature song, as well as a favorite of Martin Luther King Jr.; Jackson sang it at King’s funeral after his assassination. 

Born in Georgia to a minister and a piano teacher, Dorsey first gained success as a Blues pianist and songwriter, credited for writing over 400 Jazz and Blues songs. As Georgia Tom, he teamed with Tampa Red to cut the risque 1928 hit "Tight Like That," which sold a reported 7 million copies. By that time, he had begun also recording Gospel music under his real name. In the early 30s, he performed at the National Baptist Convention, and became the bandleader of two Chicago churches.

Tired of being mistreated by music publishers, Dorsey established Dorsey House of Music, the first black-owned gospel publishing company. He also founded his own gospel choir and was a founder and first president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. Dorsey was the first African-American writer elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2002, the Library of Congress added Dorsey's 1973 album Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey to the National Recording Registry, a tribue to its importance as a record that is. “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Dorsey died at 93, in 1993.