Dorsey grew up in Atlanta, raised by a Baptist minister and encouraged mightily in musical aptitude that revealed itself strongly when Dorsey was still an infant. He reportedly drank in music as if he was hooked up to a milking machine, checking out circus music, blues, jazz, vaudeville, hymns, and even hillbilly songs. All these styles influenced the music he created during his career, although when it comes to jazz, the matter is sometimes exaggerated by blunderers who assume a relation to famed big band brothers Tommy
and Jimmy Dorsey
. Anyway, blues and ragtime were the main interests of the Atlanta Dorsey when, as a teenager, he began gigging behind the simple stage name of Georgia Tom.
In 1918 he moved to Chicago, picking up action with area jazzmen, starting up his own Wildcats Jazz Band, and going on tour with the classic female blues empress Ma Rainey
. Yet hustling song sheets became his main way of earning money simply because these live gigs were so poorly compensated. By 1932, Dorsey became more and more associated with the music of the church, starting up one of the first gospel choirs, and initiating the first publishing firm exclusively devoted to the compositions of black gospel artists. Dorsey could place himself high on the list of such performers, composing some of the most familiar gospel songs such as the valuable "Precious Lord," the serene "Peace in the Valley," the sincere "I Don't Know Why," and the probing "Search Me Lord." His involvement in the Chicago gospel scene included pushing forward the important careers of singers Mahalia Jackson
and Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith
. Dorsey lived to the ripe age of 93. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi