He was named the Father of Gospel Music and with good reason. Not only did Thomas Dorsey coin the term “gospel music”, but he wrote some of gospel’s foundational standards such as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley”. Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born on July 1, 1899, in Villa Rica, Georgia, to an organ-playing mother and a Baptist preacher father. In spite of his church heritage, Dorsey became a blues pianist called Barrelhouse Tommy and later Georgia Tom. He wrote saucy double entendres such as “Tight Like That” and he played with blues queen Ma Rainey and Tampa Red. In 1918, he moved to Chicago where he played in a number of jazz and blues bands before forming his own group, the Wildcats Jazz Band.
In 1928 Dorsey suffered a nervous breakdown and retired from music. During his convalescence a minister convinced Dorsey not to give up music. He suggested that he give up blues and return to church because of his secular background. He took a hard stance and rejected all blues offers, although there were no forthcoming church opportunities.
In 1932, Dorsey organized a choir at Chicago’s Pilgram Baptist church and also founded the first black Christian music publishing house. Soon tragedy struck. Dorsey’s wife died in childbirth, as did the son she was carrying. On the verge of another breakdown, Dorsey locked himself in his room for three days and out of his grief, he wrote what would become “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”. In the years to come, the song would rival “Amazing Grace” as America’s favorite gospel song.