Although it has been asserted that the ‘blues’ arose from gospel music, becoming its 'darker side', it is probably nearer to the truth that they were "cousins" with a common music lineage, and that their respective development was in parallel, with both the blues and spiritual music emerging from earlier field holler songs. Itinerant musicians playing the streets of the southern states would often switch between performing the blues and sanctified music depending on the nature of the audience!

Twentieth century gospel music was conceived in the mid 1920’s in Chicago. Thomas Dorsey, often referred to as the "Father of Gospel Music," began using the phrase "gospel songs" for a new kind of religious music, songs of worship with the rhythm and energy of the blues and jazz played in Chicago at that time. Although Dorsey was not the only one associated with that movement, his commitment gave rise to a gospel movement in Chicago that then spread across the world. In fact his association was so strong that gospel songs were simply called "Dorseys." Dorsey was born in Georgia in 1899. He came from a religious background and his father was a travelling preacher and his mother played the organ at church. In 1916 he moved to Chicago and worked as a composer, pianist and vocalist using stage names such as Barrelhouse Tom, Texas Tommy, and, most commonly, Georgia Tom Dorsey. Towards the end of the 1920’s he had become a success both as a blues and jazz performer, performing and recording with many talented musicians, including Ma Rainey and Tampa Red.

From 1930 Dorsey began to work more and more on music arranged in a religious setting, applying blues melodies and rhythms within a spiritual context. In 1932 Dorsey’s young wife died in childbirth and his newborn son lived only a day. Heartbroken, Dorsey wrote "Precious Lord, Take My Hand", a song that has since become one of the best known gospel standards in the world. Thereafter he recorded extensively, publishing his own sheet music and lyrics and he became the choral director of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. He founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in Chicago in 1933, serving as its president for 40 years. He stopped recording in 1934 but carried on performing into the 1940s.


Mahalia Jackson was born in New Orleans and moved to Chicago when she was 15. Dorsey had first heard her sing in 1928 when she was only 17, but it wasn't until 1937 that they began a collaboration that would last until the 1950’s. Gospel traditions profoundly influenced the civil rights movement in America and Jackson, a committed Christian and civil rights worker, considered her singing a means for effecting change. During the famous civil rights march on Washington in August 1963, Martin Luther King asked Jackson to sing his favourite spiritual, "I Been 'Buked and I Been Scorned." Later that day, King delivered his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1968, Jackson sang Thomas Andrew Dorsey's lament, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" at King's funeral.

Although Dorsey continued writing, in middle age he mainly concentrated on lecturing and administrative church duties and perhaps during this time, the importance of his contribution to gospel music was overlooked. However he finally achieved the recognition he deserved in 1979 when he became the first African American to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Dorsey died in Chicago in 1993.