The Rise of Gospel Blues:
The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church
From the Publisher
Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African-American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Nothing could be further from the truth as Michael Harris's history of gospel blues reveals. Tracing the rise of gospel blues as seen through the career of its founding figure, Thomas Andrew Dorsey, Harris not only tells the story of the most prominent person in the advent of gospel blues, but also contextualizes this powerful new musical form within African-American religious history and significant social developments.
Thomas A. Dorsey, also known as "Georgia Tom," had considerable success in the 1920s as a pianist, composer, and arranger for prominent blues singers including Ma Rainey. In the 1930s, Dorsey became involved in Chicago's African-American, old-line Protestant churches, where his background in the blues greatly influenced his composing and singing. At first these "respectable" Chicago churches rejected this new form, partially because of the unseemly reputation blues performance had, but more because of the excitement that gospel blues produced in the church congregation.
A controversy developed between two conflicting visions of the role of the church in African-American society. One segment envisioned an institution that nurtured a distinct African-American religion and culture; the other saw the church as a means by which African Americans would assimilate first into mainline American Christianity with its sharply contrasting worship demeanor and second into the dominant Anglo-American culture. However, by the end of the 1930s, the former group had prevailed, because of the overwhelming response of the congregation to gospel blues. From that time on, it became a major force in African-American churches and religion.
The Rise of Gospel Blues expresses the broader cultural and religious histories of the African-American experience between the late 1890s and the late 1930s.