Early Life

“These things never discouraged me or quenched my spirit. Being poor, shabbily dressed, homely looking, did not stop me. I had hope, faith, courage, aspiration and most of all determination to accomplish somthing in life… I resolved to make a mark for myself.”

-Thomas Andrew Dorsey, Rise of Gospel Blues pg 31

Map of Georgia with a pinpoint of Villa Rica

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born on July 1, 1899, in rural Villa Rica, Georgia. His father Thomas Madison Dorsey was a preacher turned sharecropper due to financial problems within the family. His mother Etta Plant Spencer was a domestic servant for local people doing mainly laundry and other labor-intensive tasks people did not want to do(Georgia Encyclopedia). Both parents were unfairly treated in their respective positions and were not paid a respective wage for the amount they worked creating an unstable financial condition for the family. After years of living almost in poverty in Villa Rica, the family moved to Atlanta for hopes of better wages (PBS). This situation, unfortunately, made Dorsey and his family lose touch with the church. His main focus became finding work, so at the age of eleven, Dorsey dropped out of school to work at a local vaudeville show. Six years later, during the Great Migration to the North, he packed up and left for Chicago and got immersed in the world of the Blues. 

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