Dorsey, Thomas A.
The Mother Lode of Gospel
Just about everyone who ever sang gospel interpreted the music of Thomas Dorsey, so there's no shortage of amazing renditions of his individual songs. But to obtain a primer in the prolific and profound Dorsey, whose standards include "Peace in the Valley" and "If We Never Needed the Lord Before," this compilation is hard to beat. It showcases some of the most compelling voices in modern gospel bringing life to songs they cherished.
Dorsey (1899–1993) began playing blues and jazz piano, and recorded with, among others, the Chicago legend Big Bill Broonzy and Ma Rainey. In the early '30s he dedicated himself to church music, with little immediate success. He sent out five hundred copies of his song "If You See My Savior" to churches nationwide, and it took three years before a single order, earning him exactly a dime, came back. In 1932, his first wife died in childbirth, an experience that shook him: "I wanted to go back to blues," he recalls in the liner notes, but instead, in his grief he wrote his signature song, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (sung here by Marion Williams). The extended lament of one who's been shaken and no longer has strength to go on, the song became a kind of African American national anthem, a part of many mourning rituals and civil rights rallies.
Dorsey didn't just write hymns; his repertoire includes more hopeful, expectant visions ("Peace in the Valley," sung here by Texas native Rebert Harris), expressions of pure devotion ("Search Me Lord," a platform for the dizzying Bessie Griffin), and tunes that revitalize the conversational cadences of spirituals and field songs ("Hide Me in Thy Bosom," made magical by the Dixie Hummingbirds). Every one sparkles, and even if you're not a churchgoer, you'll probably recognize these reassuringly sturdy tunes, which have a way of affirming all that is good in the world.
Released: 1994, Sony Legacy
Key Tracks: "Hide Me in Thy Bosom," "It's a Highway to Heaven," "I Don't Know Why."
Next Stop: Say Amen Somebody! Original Soundtrack Recording
After That: The Gospel at Colonus, 1985 Cast Recording
Book Page: 233