Biography of Tommy Dorsey


Tommy Dorsey was an American musician and bandleader and one of the prominent figures of the Big Band and Swing era. A jazz trombonist, trumpeter and composer, he was a younger brother of another famed Swing musician and bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. The brothers came even to a point of competing each other in the music business.  They formed the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra and together they enjoyed a string of hits during the 1930s. More volatile between him and older brother Jimmy, Tommy immediately walked out of their own band following their bitter arguments, and formed his own band in 1935. Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra became extremely popular during the 30s up to the 50s music era churning out numerous hits and now oldies music classics such as “On Treasure Island,” “Alone,” “You,” “Once In a While,” “Satan Takes a Holiday,” “The Big Apple,” “Music, Maestro, Please,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “In the Blue Of Evening,” and many others. Dorsey’s orchestra had also featured famous musicians and arrangers, including Ziggy Elman, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa; and singers such as Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford with the Pied Pipers and Jack Leonard. By 1953 brothers Jimmy and Tommy had patched up their differences and the former moved to Tommy’s orchestra which he was also the co-leader. The renewed Dorsey Brothers Orchestra also appeared on the TV series Stage Show during the mid-1950s. Tommy Dorsey died suddenly in his sleep in 1956, aged 51; Jimmy’s lung cancer took his life seven months later.

Early life and career

Thomas Francis “Tommy” Dorsey was born in Mahanoy Plane, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1905. His older brother, Jimmy Dorsey, was another renowned bandleader. During their youth Jimmy and Tommy were greatly influenced in music by their father, a coal miner turned music teacher. The brothers went on to form their first band, a jazz outfit called Dorsey’s Novelty Six, while they were still teenagers; they later changed it to Dorsey’s Wild Canaries, and then simply to The Dorsey Brothers.

The Dorsey Brothers enjoyed a string of hits such as “Chasing Shadows,” “I Believe In Miracles,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and “You Are My Lucky Star,” among many others. Future bandleader Glenn Miller was also a part of The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

However, the growing disputes between Jimmy and Tommy caused them to break the band apart in 1935.

Solo career

Tommy Dorsey began to form his own band from the remains of the Joe Haymes band, and this started his practice of “stealing” artists from other bands. His reputation for being volatile and a perfectionist oftentimes led him to hire and dismiss (and later re-hire) musicians, vocalists or arrangers for his band.






Like many other bandleaders during the era, Dorsey also worked with several vocalists. One of the most notable singers was Frank Sinatra, whom Dorsey hired from bandleader Harry James in 1940. Sinatra would go on to do 80 recordings with Dorsey, notably “This Love of Mine” and “In the Blue of the Evening.”

From the 1930s up to the 1940s, the Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra enjoyed 132 Top 10 hits on the Billboard chart, including 81 top 10 hits and 11 number ones: ” “On Treasure Island,” “Alone,” “You,” “Marie,” “Once in a While,” “Satan Takes a Holiday,” “The Big Apple,” “Music, Maestro, Please,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “There Are Such Things” and “In the Blue of Evening.”

Like in many big bands at that time Tommy Dorsey dissolved his own band after the Second World War mainly due to economic factors. However, his records such as his RCA-Victor LP All Time Hits, still continued to fly off the music store shelves. A fictionalized film account of the Dorsey brother’s life, rise to stardom and breakup, The Fabulous Dorseys, was released in 1947.

Reunion with brother Jimmy Dorsey, and death

When Jimmy Dorsey dissolved his own band in 1953, his brother Tommy asked him to join for a feature attraction. This eventually led to form their own band once more, which was later renamed Tommy Dorsey Orchestra feat. Jimmy Dorsey. Their stint on Jackie Gleason’s TV show became successful and yielded the brother’s own TV program Stage Show, which lasted from 1955 to 1956.

Tommy Dorsey died on November 26, 1956, seven days after his 51st birthday. His death was quite unexpected and untimely. Shortly before his death he had started to take sleeping pills regularly. He became so sedated that he ended up accidentally choking himself after eating a heavy meal.

After Tommy Dorsey died, Jimmy Dorsey took the leadership of his brother’s band until his own death from lung cancer seven months later, aged 53.