Published on November 6th, 2017 | by Inspirations with Liz Black
The Inspiration – Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey
Thomas A. Dorsey’s life and works reflect the arc of Gospel music where the sacred and the secular meet. Considered the “father of Gospel Music”, Dorsey was not the first to approach music in the way he did, but he set a precedent in the volume of work he created and the ingenuity in which he presented it. Thomas Dorsey crossed many bridges; the great one that took him from the American South to the North as it did with millions of other Black folk, the musical one that took him from Blues music to Gospel music and the one that took him from a life oscillating between life’s pleasure and the profane to one of redemption and piety. The totality of his life was indeed lived in the sublime.
Dorsey’s accomplishments were profound, his experiences varied and his nicknames many. At the age of eight, “Barrel House Tom” learned to play the organ and as a young teen he played at house parties and brothels. As “Georgia Tom”, Dorsey found his footing and success in Blues scoring a hit with “Tight Like That” selling 7 million copies. “Whispering Tom” was also a session player who worked with Ma Rainey in leading her Wild Cats Jazz Band in 1924. After the death of his wife and child and in a space of vulnerability and reflection, Thomas Dorsey penned the Gospel Magnum Opus “Precious Lord”. He then went on in 1932 to establish Dorsey’s House of Music – the 1st Gospel Publishing Company. To follow would be his nurturing of Mahalia Jackson, founding and presiding over The National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, being elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame and being composer, arranger and coach for Chicago Music Publishing, Inc, Paramount, and Vocalion Records.
From breakdowns to a breakthrough, Dorsey settled the internal debate of the sacred versus secular and committed his life and musical expression to God and to Gospel Music. Short of being an open and shut case, Dorsey’s compositions did not abandon the sounds of the secular. He dodged the fate of the Blues “Crossroads” and seamlessly integrated its musical elements with that of the existing traditional sound of the black church of the time. By the 1940s, Thomas A. Dorsey was a no holds bar Gospel man until his passing in 1993 and thus, The Inspiration.
Is a series that explores the historic relationship between Gospel music, inspirational music and other genres. The Inspiration aims to give voice to the complexity of how Gospel, inspirational music is created and has come to be.