In between Epiphany and Lent, the Choir took a break, and we tried something new — to see if we could use their well-earned time off to get some different sorts of music in our worship. Louis invited guests. And some of our own worked with Louis to prepare special music. This is the last Sunday of that interlude. Choir will be back next week with Ash Wednesday.
This last Sunday, Griffin will be singing “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow.” It is one of the almost 800 Gospel songs written by Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899-1923), known as the “Father of Black Gospel Music.”
Dorsey was born in rural Georgia, but as a child traveled with his father, an itinerant Baptist preacher, and his mother who played the organ. He began his music career as a Blues pianist, know as Barrelhouse Tom, Texas Tommy and Georgia Tom, and producing over 400 blues numbers.
But eventually he settled in Chicago, and about 1927, he began peddling the gospel songs that he had begun composing alongside the blues church to church in the Midwest and South. At first, he was not allowed to play his “sacrilegious” music during services, but only after worship. Dorsey’s gospel music combines Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues. His conception of religious music also deviated from what had been, to that time, standard hymnal practice by referring explicitly to the self, and the self’s relation to faith and God, rather than subsuming the individual into the group via belief. And over time, it came to be central to the canon of much Black Church worship.
In 1931, he organized the first Gospel chorus at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Chicago, where he was the Director of Music. In 1932, after the death of his first wife, Nettie, in childbirth and a few days later, the son she bore, Dorsey in his grief wrote his most famous gospel song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Unhappy with the treatment received at the hands of established music publishers, he also founded the first company to market the music of Black gospel composers in 1932.
In 2002, the Library of Congress honored his album “Precious Lord: New Recordings of the Great Songs of Thomas A. Dorsey” (1973), by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry.