Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the father of gospel music for his merging of religious music with the blues, died Saturday. He was 93.
Dorsey, who died at home, had Alzheimer’s disease, said his daughter, Doris Dorsey.
More than half a century ago, Dorsey joined the raw soulfulness of the blues with the sacred music of his youth to create a foot-stomping, soul-slapping sound that still fills black churches.
A personal conflict over his strict religious upbringing and love of the bawdy, bluesy tunes inspired by slave songs led the young jazz pianist to create what he called “gospel” music.
Dorsey’s best-known gospel song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” was a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The song was made famous by the late Mahalia Jackson, who once toured with Dorsey. It has been translated into more than 50 languages.
The song was prompted by a tragedy early in Dorsey’s life. In 1931, his first wife died during childbirth and the infant died a day later.
Dorsey was born in 1899 in Villa Rica, Ga., near Atlanta.
By the age of 12, Dorsey was playing the blues on the piano in bordellos, making enough money to support his family. He later began composing blues and playing jazz and blues piano. He adopted the stage name “Georgia Tom.”
In 1928, Dorsey hit the top of the blues charts with “It’s Tight Like That,” which sold more than 7 million copies.
He moved to Chicago to attend Chicago Music College, where he led a five-piece band in experimenting with gospel sounds. He formed the first gospel choir in 1932 at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, where he remained director until the late ’70s.
In addition to his daughter, Dorsey is survived by his second wife, Kathryn, his son, Mickey, and four grandchildren.