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Tommy Dorsey was among the most  enigmatic characters who sprang to prominence  during the of the  big band era of   mid thirties to early fifties.

Tommy lived under the shadow of his brother Jimmy Dorsey from the moment that he was born in 1905 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Both the Dorsey brothers received their strong musical backgrounds from their father, himself a music teacher and keen amateur musician who were a particular fan of the trombone.

 

 

Jimmy, just one year his senior, was always a little more outgoing than his brother and his music career, even from an early age, seemed to progress considerably faster. In fact, it was Jimmy that got Tommy his breakthrough into the music business, appearing with a local act  known as the Scranton Sirens. 

The Dorsey Brothers became gradually well known in the music business, not just because of their obvious musical talents, but because of the pronounced love/hate relationship between them that became increasingly volatile the more successful that they became. 

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s  career began to steadily develop, as they formed small quartets and quintets, eventually became a fully fledged orchestra in 1927.

By 1928 the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra had notched up their first chart success and the following year were on their way to the big time with their firs Top Ten hit, by the name of "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)," with a young Bing Crosby providing the vocals. 

Immensely talented, Dorsey was well known for his very strong personality, which often caused him to reach loggerheads with the people he worked with. The best known instance was his highly unamicable split with older brother Jimmy which led to the break  up of their highly successful band.

Another major step forward for the Dorsey Brothers was when they were signed up by the massive Decca Record Company in 1934. Things couldn’t be better, or so it appeared. However the cracks that were always close to the surface with the brother’s on going grudge battle reaching such an extent that the situation within the orchestra became untenable.

Seeing the writing on the wall,  Tommy bowed down to his brother’s seniority for the last time by leaving the band, which was immediately to be renamed  Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, who went on to be musical and critical  success in their own right. 

 

It didn’t take long for Tommy  Dorsey, in his own fashion, to  quickly pick himself up and started again, forming an even more successful orchestra of his own, as well as furthering the career of some of the most vocalists of the era,  most prominently Frank Sinatra.

 

 

For the first time Tommy Dorsey was on his own to decide the direction of his career, which he did almost immediately, by forming  his own orchestra, making their first performances late  in 1935.

RCA Victor Records, one of the largest record labels at that time, liked Tommy’s sound, awarding him a lucrative recording contract, which he gratefully accepted. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra were to go on to prove to be a tremendous success for RCA,  remaining the record label’s  best selling act till Elvis Presley signed for them in the mid nineteen fifties.

 

So influential was Tommy Dorsey on the music scene in the late thirties, that he succeeded in convincing Frank Sinatra, who was then gaining a powerful reputation as a vocalist with Harry James, to join his orchestra. The move was to prove beneficial to them both and the band has several hits.

Like all of his counterparts on the big band scene, during the early forties,  Dorsey had to contend with the challenge of maintaining his orchestra with America at war and with the music studios on strike.

Luckily RCA had stockpiled a number of recordings  of the Tommy Dorsey which they gradually released over the course of the almost two years of the strike to keep Dorsey’s name and sound in front of his audience.

 

Dorsey also discovered the film media at that time, appearing in a few glitzy Hollywood musicals,  destined to approve moral during the war years. 

 

With the euphoria that marked the end of World War Two, Dorsey found himself in a better position than most to take advantage of it.

Tragically, his key rival Glenn Miller had not returned from the war, and the rest of the swing bands that had been at their peak in the pre war years war had difficulty reforming.

 Dorsey had managed to keep his band intact as well as his popularity had his best ever year in 1945, scoring six Top Ten hits as well charting with the band’s  first album.

However there was no escaping the fact that the interest in swing music and big bands were on the wane, with solo artists becoming more popular, with Sinatra becoming the first US pop idol.

Dorsey, ever alert to shifting sands, cut down his band considerably, a move which allowed them to survive through a cycle of  touring and recording. During the late forties and  early fifties, the leaner Tommy Dorsey orchestra had a few sporadic hits, but were constantly heading in a downward direction in terms of audience appeal.

 

In 1953, Tommy and Jimmy finally reached some form of reconciliation, when Jimmy disbanded his orchestra and joined up again with Tommy. Their renewed partnership revived a lot of interest, especially when Tommy made the magnanimous gesture of renaming his band the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

 

By then in their late forties, the brothers had nothing left to prove and seemed content to role through to retirement , taking up  the role of resident orchestra at  the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York, and appearing on their own TV show that was launched in the mid fifties.  It was on their show that a young Elvis Presley made his first national appearance to tremendous acclaim. 

Tragically Tommy Dorsey was to die in his sleep very suddenly at the age of 51 in November 1956. Jimmy, who was also suffering from terminal cancer at the time of Tommy’s passing, succumbed to the illness just eight months later.

 

The mark that Tommy Dorsey made during the swing music boom  years of the thirties and forties was so considerable that it cannot be measured. The legacy that that he left was felt for many years after his premature passing.

 

 Below is a discography of just a few of Tommy Dorsey's most popular hit songs. Please  take a moment to browse though the links and pick out one in particular to get a taste of Dorsey's musical talents.

 

   
       
  After You'e Gone Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Boogie Woogie Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Chicago Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Embraceable You Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Hawaiin War Chant Listen to this song on You Tube  
  I Get a Kick out of You Listen to this song on You Tube  
  I'll Never Smile Again Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Little White Lies Listen to this song on You Tube  
  On the Sunny Side of the Street Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Once in a While Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Opus Number One Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Song of India Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Star Dust Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Summertime Listen to this song on You Tube  
  The Huckle Buck Listen to this song on You Tube  
  They all Laughed Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Yes Indeed! Listen to this song on You Tube