Home Villa Rica 29th Annual Thomas Dorsey Festival to be June 23-24

29th Annual Thomas Dorsey Festival to be June 23-24

Downtown Villa Rica will be full of music in two weeks, as jazz and blues artists join gospel singers to celebrate the musical range of Thomas A. Dorsey.

The 29th annual Thomas A. Dorsey Birthplace and Gospel Heritage Festival will be celebrated June 23-24 in Villa Rica, hometown of the jazz and blues artist who gave his talents to God and is today known as the Father of Gospel Music.

The unique blend of the musical styles for which Dorsey was known will fill The MILL Amphitheater at 106 Temple St. Gospel singers, as well as those known for jazz and blues performances, will take the stage named after Dr. Dorsey, who was born in Villa Rica in 1899.

Dorsey was the son of Thomas Madison Dorsey, who preached at Mt. Prospect Baptist Church, and Etta Dorsey, a church organist who taught young Thomas the keyboard. Growing up in Villa Rica in the early 1900s, the youth was introduced by relatives to shaped note singing and to a musical style that would later be known as the Blues.

The family moved to Atlanta in 1908, where Dorsey took music lessons and was introduced to some of the biggest names in the Blues, including Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett of Columbus.  Dorsey joined the Black Exodus from the South to Chicago on the eve of World War I, where he later joined Rainey’s band and began recording a series of Blues records.

But Dorsey was always drawn to church music, which he tried to enliven by introducing Blues themes into worship songs. The style was not popular at first, but soon became the dominant form of church music across the country, earning Dorsey the nickname “The Father of Gospel.”

After Dorsey died in 1993, a group of Villa Rica residents created a music festival in his name, the 29th iteration of which begins Friday, June 23 at The MILL Amphitheater. 

All performances across both days are free to the public, and food vendors will be available.

June 23 has been labeled “Gospel Night at the MILL,” and will feature eight well-known Gospel groups from across the Metro area and beyond. The performances will start at 7 p.m.

Along with Villa Rica’s own Thomas A. Dorsey Birthplace Choir, based at Mt. Prospect church, the other performers will be The Hill Family, Loretta Glover of Dallas, PeepDIS (a Christian Rap artist), Uriah Gaskins and The Sanctified Believers of Douglasville, Steve Dennis and Authentic Praise, Overseer James E. Chandler and Marvelous Light Ministries of Douglasville, and Rev. Lee Franklin and The Psalms 150 Choir of Atlanta.

The Festival continues at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, with a day-long series of musical performances from other well-known Gospel groups, as well as Jazz and Blues artists.

Among these will be Dr. Earnest Pugh, an Emmy award-winning Billboard artist who has released 12 Gospel CDs to date.  Pugh is a 20-year veteran of the Gospel music industry, and along with his other honors has received the BMI Award for radio airplay.  He has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, with President Obama in attendance.

Also taking the stage on Saturday will be saxophonist Richard Shaw Jr. and the Creations Band. Shaw, of Atlanta, is known for his ability to play up to three saxophones simultaneously. During his career, he has shared the stage with Steve Harvey, Jennifer Hudson, Wynton Marsalis, CeCe Winans, William Murphy, and Tasha Cobbs.

Other Saturday night performers will be Dr. Eddie Robinson, the Dorsey Birthplace Choir, Cocomotion, and Kaspar and the 911 Band.

Dorsey made a name for himself during the Roaring 20s for spicy Blues tunes. But he essentially turned away from secular music to concentrate on the church and his Gospel compositions.

In August 1932, his wife, Nettie, died giving birth to a son, who died the next day. In his grief, Dorsey sat down at a piano and began playing a tune. The resulting song, “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” has since became the song with which he is now most closely associated.

Since then, “Take My Hand” has been translated into 32 languages and has been sung by such artists as Aretha Franklin. In 1968, Dorsey’s friend Mahalia Jackson sang the song at the funeral for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another song by Dorsey, “Peace in the Valley,” sold millions of records in 1957, when sung by Elvis Presley.


Ken Denney

Public Information Officer

City of Villa Rica

[email protected]