Known as "the father of gospel music," Thomas Dorsey was the first to combine the blues and jazz popular in African-American culture with sacred texts. Born in Villa Rica to a sharecropper/pastor father and a piano teacher mother, Dorsey was immersed in music from an early age. Before he was out of teens, he’d learned how to play barrelhouse-style blues piano and quickly left Georgia for Chicago, where he found work playing parties and bars.
Despite his success with such artists as Ma Rainey and Tampa Red, Dorsey was conflicted by his church-steeped upbringing and worn out by his nonstop workload. A spiritual awakening led him to apply his knowledge to the then-staid world of church music—but his approach initially wasn’t welcomed. "I was thrown out of some of the best churches in Chicago," he memorably noted. Finally, out of tragedy—the loss of his wife and infant son—Dorsey wrote his most memorable song, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," a standard to this day. Dorsey went on to found his own publishing company and lead his own gospel choir. His collaboration with Mahalia Jackson (which produced "Peace in the Valley") also helped increase his fame. Dorsey was the music director at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago from 1932 until the late 1970s—he passed away in 1993 at the age of 93.