THOMAS A. DORSEY – FATHER OF AFRICAN AMERICAN GOSPEL MUSIC

In the 1920’s Thomas A. Dorsey is credited with creating the original musical art form of African American Gospel music. Dorsey’s story is a fascinating and inspiring one, not only in the music world but because of it’s profound impact on American culture. Traditionally, the music used in American Christian churches across the country, in both black or white churches had been European hymnals.

African American gospel music began with Thomas A. Dorsey’s desire to create a new music to praise God. Thomas A. Dorsey was a blues pianist by profession who wanted to write music praising God when he became a Christian himself. He wanted to write music about his new faith, and proclaim his love for Jesus Christ through his original music. Dorsey really loved the blues and especially the rhythmic cadence of the blues music which as we know originally came directly out the spirituals sound. However unlike the spirituals the blues lyrics were more secular in nature.

So he created this new style of music using the rhythmic cadence of the blues and combining it with lyrics he wrote to praise the Lord capturing and cultivating his fervent love for God to share with other Christians. After writing several songs he made an attempt to sing them in black churches, and literally he was physically thrown out of churches and never invited back. The congregations one by one told him he couldn’t sing “that devil music in here”. In was commonly accepted in the black community that Blues music was “devil music”. Church clergy and members recognizing the blues rhythmic sound in his music regardless of his words praising God, to them it seemed sacrilegious and would not ever be accepted in church.

Struggling to find an audience, and being shunned and dismissed as nothing more than a Blues pianist, Dorsey continued to press on with a strong faith that his music would one day be accepted for what he intended, which was to praise God. Finally after many failed attempts, he began performing at outdoor tent revivals singing his gospel music in praise for the Lord. Slowly his music became less and less of a lightening rod for rejection and gradually his music become more accepted. On a roll, he enlisted the help of Mahalia Jackson to sing his songs, and the rest is history. Her amazing voice with his songs became an overnight sensation.

His most beloved song “Precious Lord”, was also sung and made famous by Mahalia Jackson.
Precious Lord, Dorsey says he wrote after a tragic event in his life. At his wife’s insistence Dorsey reluctantly left home to perform his music on the road at multiple events. Knowing his wife was pregnant, but convinced he would be home in plenty of time before for the birth of their child he left home to go on tour. While on the road he received a devastating telegram which read: Thomas come home your wife just died, your baby is alive. He immediately left for home and upon his return, he got the grave news his child had also died. Inconsolable grief set in his heart and all attempts of his friends and family to comfort him fell on deaf ears. He began to cry and scream at the top of his lungs to the Lord, why? why? A friend overheard Thomas, and said to him, “Thomas I think you have forgotten who you are praying to, you are praying to a precious Lord”. And with that statement, Thomas sat down at the piano and wrote this song, Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home…………..

So as you can see African American gospel music has a deep connection to the spirituals. Dorsey tapped into the vibrant American original music we call spirituals, created by the slaves with the intention in their music to connect to the Power who created us all to find comfort, healing, peace and love. Download the spirituals @ https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/calvinearl

  1. Melody Kittles
    | Reply

    I’m so glad I read this article today! What an amazing testimony and what a legacy Mr. Dorsey has left behind. I love singing this song, but never really looked into the history of it. I cried as I read the more sorrowful parts. How relatable! As I sat writing a blog post today, after having Hurricane Laura pass over us with little damage, but not so for others to the west of us, the words of this hymn came to mind. So I did a little Google search and your article came up. I’m so glad I spotted it among the others. We are not alone and we do serve a Precious Lord. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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