The Father of Gospel Music Wanted to Be a Secular Star

By Kathryn Kemp

Thomas Dorsey was 33 years old and had a flourishing career in secular music. In the previous 15 years, the Georgia native had moved to Chicago, completed his musical studies while picking up an endless number of side jobs, and eventually found a way to support himself and his expectant wife as a full-time musician. But it wasn’t to last. In the next months, Dorsey would lose his spouse and newborn son, a tragedy which spurred him to heed the advice of those closest to him. He would leave the secular music scene behind and fully dedicate his musical gifts to the church.

Over the next 60 years, Dorsey became known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” penning hundreds of songs and redefining the genre in beat, rhythm, and tempo. As The Voice reported, the Chicago musician dubbed his work “songs with a message.”
A prolific songwriter throughout his 93 years of life—Dorsey died in 1993—he nevertheless kept a soft spot for the hymn that catapulted his gospel career, calling it “the greatest song I have written out of near four hundred gospel songs.”

“The price exacted for ‘Precious Lord’ was very high,” he said at the age of 70, alluding to the loss of his first wife and son. “The grief, the sorrow, the loneliness, the loss, the uncertainty of the future, but I was requited or repaid with double dividends and compound interest.”

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