Dorsey, Tommy (actually, Thomas Francis Jr.)

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Dorsey, Tommy (actually, Thomas Francis Jr.)

Dorsey, Tommy (actually, Thomas Francis Jr.), American bandleader and trombonist; b. Shenandoah, Pa., Nov. 19,1905; d. Greenwich, Conn., Nov. 26, 1956. Dorsey was the most popular bandleader of the Swing Era, consistently placing among the top recording and performing artists from 1935 to 1945. His accomplished trombone playing set the tone for his band’s sound, but he maintained his popularity by straddling the sweet and hot styles of swing, balancing ballads and novelty numbers sung by such notable vocalists as Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Jo Stafford with inventive jazz arrangements by Sy Oliver, Bill Finegan, and others. His record label, RCA Victor, claimed sales of 37 million copies between 1935 and 1950, his biggest hits being “Marie,” “111 Never Smile Again,” and “There Are Such Things.”

Dorsey was the second son of Thomas Francis and Theresa Langton Dorsey; his older brother Jimmy Dorsey was trained by their father, a music teacher and band director, in reed instruments, while Tommy Dorsey received instruction in brass instruments, concentrating primarily on the slide trombone, though he also played trumpet professionally, especially early in his career. The Dorsey brothers played in local bands in Pa. before forming their first group, Dorsey’s Novelty Six, in 1920. The group was renamed Dorsey’s Wild Canaries when they played an extended engagement at an amusement park in Baltimore in 1922 and made their debut on local radio there.

Over the next several years the brothers played in a succession of bands, including The Scranton Sirens, The California Ramblers, and the orchestras of Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman. By the late 1920s they had settled in N.Y., where they worked as session musicians. They made their first recordings with the Dorsey Brothers Orch. in 1927, though this was a studio-only group. Their first hit came with “Coquette” (music by Carmen Lombardo and John Green, lyrics by Gus Kahn) in June 1928.

In 1934 the Dorseys organized a permanent touring band featuring Glenn Miller as arranger and Bob Crosby as vocalist. The group broke through to popular success in the spring of 1935, first topping the hit parade with “Lullabye of Broadway” (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin) in May. Unfortunately, the brothers feuded, and Tommy Dorsey left to organize his own orchestra. In the meantime, “Chasing Shadows” (music by Abner Silver, lyrics by Benny Davis), recorded before the split, topped the hit parade in June, and “Every Little Movement” and “Every Single Tingle of My Heart” were also in the chart during the summer.

Dorsey began his solo bandleading career successfully; his initial single, “On Treasure Island” (music by Joe Burke, lyrics by Edgar Leslie), with a vocal by Edythe Wright, went to #1 in December, by which time “Don’t Give up the Ship” (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin) and “Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle” (music and lyrics by Walter G. Samuels, Leonard Whitcup, and Teddy Powell) had also reached the hit parade. “Alone” (music by Arthur Freed, lyrics by Nacio Herb Brown) entered the chart at the end of the year and went to #1 in February 1936, but it was preceded by “The Music Goes ’Round and ’Round” (music by Edward Farley and Michael Riley, lyrics by Red Hodgson), featuring the Dorsey small group the Clambake Seven, which entered the chart the first week of January and topped it the second. “Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes” (music by Jimmie Lunceford and Saul Chaplin, lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Don Raye) was also in the hit parade in January, followed by “Little Rendezvous in Honolulu” (the first Dorsey hit to feature vocalist Jack Leonard) in February and “Lovely Lady” (music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Ted Koehler) in March.

April 1936 saw two more Dorsey-recorded songs in the hit parade, “You Started Me Dreaming” (music by J. Fred Coots, lyrics by Benny Davis) and a fourth charttopper, “You” (music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Harold Adamson). The second half of the year was not quite as successful for Dorsey, but he did have chart entries with “No Regrets” (music by Roy Ingraham, lyrics by Harry Tobias) in July, “Close to Me” (music by Peter De Rose, lyrics by Sam M. Lewis) in October, and “I’m in a Dancing Mood” (music and lyrics by Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, and Maurice Sigler) in November.

On Jan. 29, 1937, Dorsey recorded an unusual arrangement of Irving Berlin’s 1928 song “Marie” in which Jack Leonard’s vocal was undercut by interjections from the band. Though the song did not place in the hit parade, the record sold a million copies. (Its B-side, the instrumental “Song of India,” based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Chanson Indoue” from his opera Sadko, was also popular.) “Marie” became one of Dorsey’s signature songs, and Leonard became one of the most popular band singers. With his success Dorsey gained a sponsored weekly radio program that ran for nearly three years.

Dorsey returned to the hit parade with three songs in August 1937: the instrumental “Satan Takes a Holiday” (music by Larry Clinton); “My Cabin of Dreams” (music and lyrics by Nick Madison, Al Frazzini, Charles Kenny, and Nick Kenny); and “Stardust on the Moon” (music and lyrics by Emery Deutsch and Jimmy Rogan). “Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?” (music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) was in the chart in September, and in November Dorsey had two listings: “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” (music by Saul Chaplin, lyrics by Sammy Cahn) and “Once in a While” (music by Michael Edwards, lyrics by Bud Green), which became his fifth #1 hit.

Dorsey had 11 songs in the hit parade in 1938: “The Dipsy Doodle” (music and lyrics by Larry Clinton); “In the Still of the Night” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter); “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal); “You Couldn’t Be Cuter” (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields); “Bewildered” (music and lyrics by Leonard Whitcup and Teddy Powell); “You Leave Me Breathless” (music by Frederick Hollander, lyrics by Ralph Freed); his sixth #1, “Music, Maestro, Please” (music by Allie Wrubel, lyrics by Herb Magidson); “Now It Can Be Told” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin); “Stop Beating ’Round the Mul-berry Bush” (music by Clay Boland, lyrics by Bickley Reichner); “My Own” (music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Harold Adamson); and “You Got Me.” On Sept. 16, 1938, he cut the best-selling record of his career, an instrumental treatment of “Boogie Woogie” (music by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith) that sold a reported four million copies in its initial release and subsequent reissues.

Dorsey scored another 11 hit parade entries in 1939: “This Is It” (music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Dorothy Fields); his seventh chart-topper, “Our Love” (music and lyrics by Larry Clinton, Buddy Bernier, and Bob Emmerich); “A New Moon and an Old Serenade” (music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed); “All I Remember Is You” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Eddie DeLange); “In the Middle of a Dream”; “This Is No Dream” (music by Ted Shapiro and Tommy Dorsey, lyrics by Benny Davis); “The Lamp Is Low” (music by Peter De Rose and Bert Shefter, lyrics by Mitchell Parish); “To You” (music by Ted Shapiro and Tommy Dorsey, lyrics by Benny Davis); “Oh, You Crazy Moon” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke); “Are You Having Any Fun?” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Jack Yellen); and his eighth chart- topper, “All the Things You Are” (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). All but one of these records had lead vocals by Jack Leonard, who left Dorsey in November.

Dorsey’s first two chart entries of 1940, “Indian Summer” (music by Victor Herbert, lyrics by Al Dubin—his ninth #1 hit) and “To You, Sweetheart, Aloha” (music and lyrics by Harry Owens), also had Leonard vocals, offering a considerable challenge to his replacement. Alan DeWitt was Dorsey’s first choice, and he sang on “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter), which was in the hit parade in March. But by that time Dorsey had dismissed him and hired away the male singer in Harry James’s band, Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra’s first hit parade entry with Dorsey came in June 1940 with “You’re Lonely and I’m Lonely” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin), but he really made his mark with “I’ll Never Smile Again7’ (music and lyrics by Ruth Lowe), on which he was accompanied by Dorsey’s vocal group, the Pied Pipers, whose female member was Jo Stafford; it topped the charts in July. Also in July, “Imagination” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke) was in the Top Ten for Dorsey and Sinatra. Alan Storr sang lead on “Only Forever” (music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Johnny Burke), a Top Ten hit for Dorsey in October, but Sinatra was back on vocals on Dorsey’s three remaining Top Ten hits of the year, “Trade Winds” (music by Cliff Friend, lyrics by Charles Tobias), “Our Love Affair” (music by Roger Edens, lyrics by Arthur Freed), and “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)” (music and lyrics by Nelson Cogane, Sammy Mysels, and Dick Robertson).

Dorsey had nine Top Ten hits in 1941, and Sinatra sang on eight of them. On “Everything Happens to Me” (music by Matt Dennis, lyrics by Tom Adair),”This Love of Mine” (music by Sol Parker and Hank Sanicola, lyrics by Sinatra), and “Two in Love” (music and lyrics by Meredith Willson), Sinatra had the microphone to him-self. On “Star Dust” (music by Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics by Mitchell Parish), “Do I Worry?” (music and lyrics by Stanley Cowan and Bobby Worth), and “Dolores” (music by Louis Alter, lyrics by Frank Loesser), he was accompanied by the Pied Pipers. (The last was featured in the Dorsey Orch/s first film appearance, Las Vegas Nights, in March.) “Oh! Look at Me Now” (music by Joe Bushkin, lyrics by John De Vries) and “Let’s Get Away from It All” (music by Matt Dennis, lyrics by Tom Adair) found female vocalist Connie Haines joining in with Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. “Yes Indeed!,” the sole Dorsey Top Ten hit without Sinatra in 1941, featured vocals by its songwriter, Sy Oliver, and Jo Stafford.

The first full year of World War II in the U.S., 1942, was a difficult one for the recording industry in general and Dorsey in particular. His troupe appeared in a second motion picture, Ship Ahoy, in June. At the start of August the musicians’ union instituted a recording ban that kept Dorsey out of the studio for more than two years. Sinatra’s departure for a solo career was announced that same month. (He was replaced by Dick Haymes, who was unable to record with Dorsey due to the recording ban.) Nevertheless, Dorsey managed three Top Ten hits during the year, “Just as Though You Were Here” (music by John Benson Brooks, lyrics by Eddie DeLange), “Take Me” (music by Rube Bloom, lyrics by Mack David), and “Daybreak” (music by Ferde Grofe, lyrics by Harold Adamson); the first was sung by Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, the other two by Sinatra alone.

In anticipation of the recording ban, Dorsey had stockpiled recordings, and after they were exhausted his record label began reissuing earlier recordings, resulting in a stream of hits over the next two years. “There Are Such Things” (music and lyrics by Stanley Adams, Abel Baer, and George W. Meyer), with vocals by Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, topped the charts in January 1943 and sold a million copies. “It Started All Over Again” (music by Carl Fischer, lyrics by Bill Carey), also with vocals by Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, reached the Top Ten in March. “It’s Always You” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke), with a Sinatra vocal, was originally released in 1941; reissued, it hit the Top Ten in July. “In the Blue of Evening” (music by Aired A. D’Artega, lyrics by Tom Adair), another feature for Sinatra, first appeared in 1942; it went to #1 in August 1943.

Dorsey’s 1938 recording of “Boogie Woogie” hit the Top Ten in January 1944. “I’ll Be Seeing You” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal), a Sinatra vocal recorded in February 1940, was in the Top Ten in July 1944. Meanwhile, Dorsey continued to perform, and he appeared in a number of MGM movie musicals during the war years: Presenting Lily Mars starring Judy Gar-land in April 1943; DuBarry Was a Lady with Red Skelton in August 1943; Girl Crazy with Garland and Mickey Rooney in December 1943; and Broadway Rhythm with George Murphy in April 1944. He also ended his first marriage to Mildred Kroft, which had produced two children, and married actress Pat Dane on April 8, 1943. This marriage, too, would end in divorce and be followed by a third.

Dorsey’s record label settled with the musicians’ union in the fall of 1944, and he returned to the studio, resulting in six newly recorded Top Ten hits in 1945. “I Dream of You (More Than You Dream I Do)” (music and lyrics by Marjorie Goetschius and Edna Osser), with a vocal by Freddy Stewart, was popular in January; its flip side, the instrumental “Opus No. 1” (music by Sy Oliver), peaked in March and remained a standard of the Swing Era. “More and More” (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg), with Bonnie Lou Williams on vocals, hit in April; “A Friend of Yours” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke), vocal by Stuart Foster, in July; “On the Atchison, Topeka & and the Santa Fe” (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Johnny Mercer), sung by Dorsey’s vocal group The Sentimentalists, in August; and “Hong Kong Blues” (music and lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael) with “Skeets” Herfurt on vocals, in October. (“Boogie Woogie,” reissued a second time, also reached the Top Ten for a second time in September.) Dorsey appeared in a last MGM feature, Thrill of a Romance, starring Esther Williams, in May.

Dorsey also began to score on the album charts in 1945. with his Getting Sentimental making the Top Ten in March. His album of songs from Show Boat was in the Top Ten in February 1946. Like other bandleaders, however, he suffered from the decline in popularity of swing music, and he disbanded his group in December 1946. He reorganized in 1947 and continued to score on the record charts. His All-Time Hits album was in the Top Ten in February 1947, and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (music by Burton Lane, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg) with Stuart Foster on vocals was a Top Ten single for him in March. In May he and his brother starred in their own film biography, The Fabulous Dorseys, though it was largely fictionalized.

A second recording ban in 1948 kept Dorsey out of the charts for most of the year, but Clambake Seven was a Top Ten hit in October and “Until” (music and lyrics by Jack Fulton and Bob Crosby) featuring the Clark Sisters and the Town Criers reached the Top Ten in November. Dorsey appeared in the Danny Kaye film ASong Is Born in October. He scored his last Top Ten singles hits with both sides of a disc released in the spring of 1949, ’The Huckle-Buck” (music by Andy Gibson, lyrics by Roy Alfred), vocal by trumpeter Charlie Shavers, and “Again” (music by Lionel Newman, lyrics by Dorcas Cochran), sung by Marcy Lutes. He continued to enjoy album hits for another year, reaching the Top Ten in September 1949 with And the Band Sings Too and in April 1950 with Tommy Dorsey Plays Cole Porter. He made his final film appearance in Disc Jockey in September 1951.

Dorsey and his brother reunited in May 1953; Jimmy Dorsey broke up his band and joined his brother’s unit as a featured attraction. The brothers appeared at the Statler Hilton Hotel in N.Y. and launched a television program, Stage Show, as a summer replacement for Jackie Gleason’s show in the summer of 1954. The show ran occasionally during the 1954–55 season, then regularly during the 1955–56 season. Starting on Jan. 28, 1956, it presented Elvis Presley in his first network television appearances on six consecutive programs. The show went off the air in September 1956. Two months later, Dorsey accidentally choked to death in his sleep after eating a heavy meal and taking sleeping pills. Following Jimmy Dorsey’s death in 1957, the Tommy Dorsey orchestra was led by various people. Under the direction of Warren Covington, it scored a million-selling Top Ten hit with “Tea for Two Cha Cha” (music by Vincent Youmans, lyrics by Irving Caesar) in November 1958.


The One and Only Tommy Dorsey (1988); All-Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (with Frank Sinatra; 1988); All-Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (with Frank Sinatra; 1988); All-Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (with Frank Sinatra; 1989); Well Get It! The TD CD (1989); Best of Tommy Dorsey (1989); Sentimental (1989); The 17 Number Ones (1990); Oh! Look at Me Now & Other Big Band Hits (with Frank Sinatra; 1990); The Great Tommy Dorsey (1991); Jazz Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1 (1991); Jazz Collector’s Edition, Vol. 2 (1991); Best of Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra (1991); Yes, Indeed! (1991); 1942 War Bond Broadcasts (1992); Boogie Woogie (1992); Radio Days (1992); Live in Hi-Fi at Casino Gardens (1992); One Night Stand with Tommy Dorsey (1992); Stardust (with Frank Sinatra; 1992); Best of Tommy Dorsey (1992); The Post War Era (1993); Stop, Look & Listen (1993); Tommy Dorsey and His Greatest Band (1994); At the Fat Man’s 1946–48 (1994); The Carnegie Hall V-Disc Session—April 1944 (1994); All Time Hit Parade Rehearsals 1944 (1994); 1936–1938 (1994); The Song Is You (with Frank Sinatra; 1994); I’ll Be Seeing You (with Frank Sinatra; 1994); 24 Gems (1994); Sheik of Swing (1995); 1935–1936 (1995); His Best Recordings 1928–1942 (1996); 1936 (1996); Irish American Trombone (1996); Dance with Dorsey (1996); Greatest Hits (1996); The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing (1996); Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra: Greatest Hits (with Frank Sinatra; 1996); Tommy Dorsey (1997); Tommy Dorsey: Members Edition (1997); 1936–1937 (1997); Best of Tommy Dorsey & The Clambake Seven 1936–38 (with The Clambake Seven; 1997); 1937 (1997); 1936–41 Broadcasts (1997); 1938–1939 in Hi-Fi Broadcasts (1997); Golden Hits (1997). THE DORSEY BROTHERS : I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (1990); The Dorsey Brothers: Best of the Big Bands (1992); Harlem Lullaby (1994); Live in the Big Apple (1994); NBC Bandstand 8/2/56 (1995); Live in the Meadowbrook (1995); Mood Hollywood (1996); Opus No. 1 (1996); Dorsey-itis (1996); Stage Show (1996); The Dorsey Brothers, Vol. I—New York 1928 (1997); The Dorsey Brothers, Vol. 2—New York 1929–1930 (1997); 1954–1956 (1997); Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey: Swingin’ in Hollywood (1998).


The Modern Trombonist (1944); Love in Swing-time (novel).


H. Sanford, T. and Jimmy: The D. Years (1972); C. Garrod, W. Scott, and F. Green, T. D. and His Orchestra (discography in two volumes; 1980–82; rev. ed. 1988); R. Stockdale, T.D.: On the Side (1995).

—William Ruhlmann

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Dorsey, Tommy (actually, Thomas Francis Jr.)

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