Who Was the Founder of Modern Gospel Music?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover the history of modern gospel music and the man who is credited with being its founder.


Thomas A. Dorsey is widely credited as the father of modern gospel music. A native of Georgia, Dorsey was a talented musician and composer who wrote hundreds of gospel songs, including the famous “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” He was also a pioneer in the development of the blues gospel sound, fusing together elements of both genres to create a new and uniquely American form of religious music.

The Life and Music of Thomas A. Dorsey

Though Thomas A. Dorsey is not a household name, his influence on gospel music cannot be understated. A prolific composer and performer, Dorsey was a driving force in the development of what we now know as modern gospel music. In this article, we’ll explore Dorsey’s life and music, and how he helped to shape the sound of gospel.

Early Life

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, on July 1, 1899. His father, Frank Dorsey, was a minister in the Church of God in Christ; his mother, Kate Dorsey, was a gospel singer. Young Tom first played piano in his father’s church. When he was 14 years old, his parents died—his father of a heart attack and his mother of tuberculosis—leaving him to fend for himself.

Dorsey moved to Atlanta and found work as a musician in nightclubs and vaudeville houses. He slept on park benches and learned how to play jazz piano from Fats Waller and other celebrated musicians. In 1923 he moved to Chicago, where he worked as an accompanist for blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. He also began leading his own bands and composing songs—including “It’s Right Here for You” (1924), one of the first jazz compositions to feature explicitly religious lyrics.


A turning point in Dorsey’s life occurred in 1926 when he met evangelist Mahalia Jackson at a club on Chicago’s Randolph Street. Jackson persuaded Dorsey to join her on the evangelistic circuit, where his music brought tears and joy to many people. For the next several years, the team toured throughout America, becoming one of the most popular gospel acts of the time. Jackson and Dorsey eventually parted ways, but their musical partnership had helped to make gospel music popular with African Americans nationwide.

Dorsey continued to develop his own style of gospel music, incorporating blues and jazz elements into traditional hymns and spirituals. He also began writing his own songs, many of which would become gospel classics, such as “Peace in the Valley,” “Taking My burdens to the Lord,” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” In 1932, Dorsey founded the first ever gospel choir at Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church. He also established a publishing company called Dorsey House of Music, which became one of the most important outlets for gospel sheet music in America.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Dorsey’s career flourished. He toured extensively, both with his own groups and as a solo act. He also continued to write new songs and arrangements; in all, he composed more than 400 gospel songs. In addition to his work as a musician and composer, Dorsey served as assistant pastor at Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1940 until his death in 1993.

Later Years

In the 1940s, Dorsey’s health began to fail, and he suffered a heart attack in 1943. He continued to tour and record, although not as extensively as in previous years. In October 1946, he recorded his final sessions for Decca Records. One of the songs he recorded during these sessions, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, would become one of his most famous compositions, and would eventually be recorded by artists such as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Elvis Presley.

Dorsey died of a second heart attack on January 23, 1993, at the age of 93. He was survived by his wife Nettie (who died in 1998), and by two daughters, Thomasina and Rose Marie.

The Impact of Thomas A. Dorsey’s Music

Thomas A. Dorsey is considered by many to be the father of modern gospel music. His gospel hymns, such as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley,” have been performed by some of the most famous gospel singers in history. Dorsey’s music has had a profound impact on the development of gospel music, and his legacy continues to inspire singers and composers today.

On the Music Industry

Dorsey was responsible for shaping the sound and style of what came to be known as modern gospel music, creating a musical idiom that was at once new and accessible to both sacred and secular audiences. His songs were performed by some of the most popular gospel artists of his day, including Mahalia Jackson and the Dorsey Brothers, and helped define the sound of American gospel music for generations to come. In addition to his impact on gospel music, Dorsey’s work also had a significant effect on the development of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. His songs helped to bridge the gap between these genres and established Dorsey as one of the most important figure in the history of American popular music.

On American Culture

Thomas A. Dorsey was an American gospel composer and musician, born in Villa Rica, Georgia in 1899. A major figure in the development of gospel music, he wrote the lyrics to more than four hundred songs, including “Peace in the Valley” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” He also popularized the use of personal testimony in gospel music through his own performances. His work helped to shape the sound and style of modern gospel music and had a significant impact on American culture.


So, who was the founder of modern gospel music? This is a difficult question to answer definitively, as there are multiple people who could lay claim to this title. Thomas A. Dorsey is often cited as the father of gospel music, as he was responsible for popularizing the genre and writing many of its earliest classics. However, other figures such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe also played important roles in developing and popularizing gospel music, and so it is hard to say definitively who should be given the title of ‘founder’. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide who they believe deserves this distinction.

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