Home Featured Events 30th Annual Dorsey Festival features Gala, Three Days of Music

30th Annual Dorsey Festival features Gala, Three Days of Music

For three decades, Villa Rica has honored the legacy of the city’s most creative and prolific musical talent, and a stellar three-day celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Thomas A. Dorsey Birthplace and Gospel Heritage Festival is planned for next month.

The festival will take place June 28 – 29 at various venues in town, starting with a unique gala jazz evening at the V-Plex, and performances at The MILL amphitheater and Mt. Prospect Baptist Church. Mt Prospect was the church the young Dorsey and his family attended, and  it is now the home of the Thomas A. Dorsey Birthplace Choir, which also celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Dorsey, who was born in Villa Rica 124 years ago, had a significant career in jazz and blues during the early 20th century. But he rose to fame with blues-inspired Gospel tunes that revolutionized worship music – and earned him the title of “Father of Gospel Music.”

Dr. Dorsey left Villa Rica when he was a young boy, but shortly after his 1993 death in Chicago, prominent leaders in Villa Rica decided to honor his legacy with an annual festival.  The event is meant to honor the three musical genres he became known for, particularly Gospel music.

The festival will launch on Friday, June 28, with a 7 p.m. formal Black and White Gala jazz performance at the Villa Rica Civic Center, located at 1605 Highway 61. This semi-formal, after-six event has a black and white dress code and is the only part of the three-day festival that requires an admission charge. Tickets cost $35 and can be obtained through the Eventbrite website. 

The featured performers for the gala are the Mose Davis Trio, featuring Atlanta recording artist Toni Byrd. 

Davis is known as “The Music Specialist” for his mastery of jazz, R&B, Pop, Rock, and Gospel.  Classically trained at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, Davis and his band are a prominent feature of the Atlanta music scene. They have shared the stage with Pieces of A Dream, Michael Franks, Ahmad Jamal, Roy Ayers and Frankie Beverly. Davis has made numerous appearances at jazz festivals, including The Atlanta Jazz Festival, The Macon Jazz Festival, and the world-renowned Spoleto Festival in Charleston.

Ms. Byrd is a well-known Atlanta singer, songwriter, actress and recording artist. She has opened for Gladys Knight and performed for Dionne Warwrick and George Benson.

The festival continues Saturday, June 29, with Gospel music in the afternoon and a Blues performance in the evening, capped by a fireworks show.

Gospel songs – many of which were written by Dorsey – will be performed at the Mt. Prospect church, located at 133 Dorsey Drive, starting at 3 p.m.

At 6:30 p.m., the action shifts to The MILL amphitheater, located downtown at 106 Temple St., for a “Saturday Night Blues” show.

Featured performers will be the Soul Cartel Band, a classic R&B and Soul band that has been entertaining audiences for the past 14 years.  The group is composed of musicians and vocalists with backgrounds ranging from R&B, gospel, jazz, and funk; a blend of sounds that has proven very popular with audiences.

Joining the Soul Cartel on the Thomas Dorsey stage will be the Atlanta band Cocomotion.

The concert is free, and there will be barbecue and other vendors on site. Afterward, the skies will be lit by spectacular fireworks show.

The festival will end with a Sunday afternoon Gospel performance that will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Thomas A. Dorsey Birthplace Choir.

Joining the Choir and Dr. Eddie Robinson at Mt. Prospect will be renowned Gospel producer and performer Luther Barnes and the Sunset Jubilaires.  Barnes has been inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Detroit and holds other prestigious awards and honors.

Thomas Dorsey is the most accomplished musical artist to have come from the west Georgia area.  He was born in Villa Rica on July 1, 1899, and his father, also named Thomas, often preached at Mt. Prospect.  

The family moved to Atlanta in 1908, where young Thomas was exposed to the Ragtime and early jazz sounds of the era. After he moved to Chicago in 1916, Dorsey composed popular jazz and Blues tunes and later traveled with the legendary Ma Rainey.

But Dorsey was always drawn to worship music. His early compositions, infused with the rhythms of the jazz age, were not popular with conservative ministers – but churchgoers soon embraced them.

In 1932, Dorsey suffered a devastating personal loss when both his wife and infant son died. Out of despair, Dorsey was moved to compose “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” a song that became a favorite of Martin Luther King Jr. and has since been popularized by many secular artists, including Elvis Presley.

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