The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church

The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church

by Michael W. Harris
     
 

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Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African-American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, as Michael W. 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 tells the story of the most

Overview

Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African-American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, as Michael W. 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 tells the story of the most prominent person in the advent of gospel blues. Also known as "Georgia Tom," Dorsey had considerable success in the 1920s as a pianist, composer, and arranger for prominent blues singes including Ma Rainey. In the 1930s he became involved in Chicago's African-American, old-line Protestant churches, where his background in the blues greatly influenced his composing and singing. Following much controversy during the 1930s and the eventual overwhelming response that Dorsey's new form of music received, the gospel blues became a major force in African-American churches and religion. His more than 400 gospel songs and recent Grammy Award indicate that he is still today the most prolific composer/publisher in the movement. Delving into the life of the central figure of gospel blues, Harris illuminates not only the evolution of this popular musical form, but also the thought and social forces that forged the culture in which this music was shaped.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Without doubt, this is the most scholarly book written on the subject of African American gospel music to date....Harris has written the first and only book on Thomas Andrew Dorsey, who brought African American gospel from the sanctified church, through the Baptist church, and into the world. This is not only a good book; it is an important one."—Ethnomusicology

"In The Rise of Gospel Blues, we are afforded deeper insights into the relationship between religion and art in African American culture. Indeed, we gain a keener sense of black churches as fountainheads of culture."—Church History

"The fact that Harris transgresses the repressive orthodoxy of the church and reveals the human contribution to gospel music to be 'the blues' makes this book one of the few nonfictional pieces placeable in Ralph Ellison's 'blues school of literature."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"This is a highly detailed study of the music of Thomas A. Dorsey....It's a thoroughly scholarly study, well annotated and indexed...and must be recommended to anyone with a really serious interest in the genre."—Storyville

"This book has its own duality; it is at once a compelling analysis of an important African-American cultural expression and an insightful account of the first forty years of Dorsey's life....Harris cleverly weaves together his biographical and cultural analysis."—American Historical Review

"The Rise of the Gospel Blues is a complex and provocative work, providing a solid foundation for exploring the role of gospel music in the twentieth-century African-American church."—Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter

"Harris...skillfully demonstrates the ways that music can serve ideology, whether as "survival texts" or as an emblem of class warfare. He also captures the union of piety and commerce inherent in American fundamentalism."—New York Times Book Review

"Harris cleverly weaves together his biographical and cultural analysis....He has written a fine book from which historians, even the tone deaf among them, will profit."—American Historical Review

"Harris carefully portrays Dorsey as the personification of the tension between the assimilationist and indigenous African-American traditions....This is no mere academic anatomizing imposed on a music of folkish popular culture....The fact that Harris transgresses the repressive orthodoxy of the church and reveals the human contribution to gospel music to be "the blues" makes his book one of the few nonfictional pieces placeable in Ralph Ellison's "blues school of literature."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Harris's exploration of the 'bluesman' and preacher as 'cultural analogues of one another' is fascinating and important....Harris provides an admirably detailed chronicle of Dorsey's struggles and triumphs....Harris's thoroughly researched explanation of the emergence of gospel blues will reward the attention of both enthusiasts and historians. I expect that this account will become a standard work."—The Journal of American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199879885
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
06/23/1994
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
7 MB

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Michael W. Harris is Associate Professor of History and African-American World Studies at the University of Iowa.

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