Tommy Dorsey was a popular American trombonist who performed with brother Jimmy in the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra during the 1920s and ’30s. He was bandleader of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the 1930s and ’40s.
Famed trombonist and bandleader Tommy Dorsey was born on November 19, 1905, in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Dorsey came from a musical family and, as a child, learned to play both the trumpet and trombone. With brother Jimmy, Tommy played in several bands growing up. In the late 1920s, he joined his brother to record as the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. They enjoyed success until the mid-1930s. After a fight with his brother, Tommy Dorsey created his own group, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which recorded in a number of hits in the 1930s and '40s, including "On Treasure Island." The Dorsey brothers reunited in the mid-1950s, with Jimmy joining Tommy's orchestra. The two appeared on a television series, Stage Show, around this same time. Dorsey died on November 26, 1956, in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Early Life and Career
Born on November 19, 1905, in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Tommy Dorsey was one of the most popular bandleaders of the swing era. He and his brother, Jimmy, were pushed into becoming musicians by their father, who taught both boys how to play their instruments. Tommy started out on the trumpet, later switching to the trombone.
The Dorsey brothers began performing at an early age. Two of their early bands were Dorsey's Novelty Six and Dorsey's Wild Canaries. In the 1920s, Tommy joined Jimmy in the Scranton Sirens. By the end of that decade, Tommy and Jimmy had begun recording as the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. They had their first hit in 1928 with "Coquette."
In 1934, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey formed a touring orchestra. Their group was well-received, but it didn't last long. Following a dispute with Jimmy, Tommy stormed off stage during a show in May 1935. The pair remained estranged for decades afterward.
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
In 1935, Tommy Dorsey took over Joe Haymes's orchestra to form his band. The new orchestra soon proved to be popular, hitting the top of the charts that December with "On Treasure Island." Dorsey had success with what is now considered one of his signature songs, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," around this same time.
More hits followed through the late 1930s and early '40s. Dorsey brought a young singer named Frank Sinatra into his orchestra in 1940. Sinatra stayed with the Orchestra until 1942, singing on such successful singles as "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Dolores." Also during this time, Dorsey made numerous film appearances, playing himself in films like Birth of the Blues (1941) and Ship Ahoy (1942).
As interest in swing music began to fade, Tommy Dorsey worked hard to keep his orchestra together. He and brother Jimmy repaired their relationship in the early 1950s, and Jimmy joined Tommy's group as a star performer after his own orchestra folded.
The Dorsey brothers soon found success on the small screen. In 1954, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra landed its own series called Stage Show, produced by comedian/television personality Jackie Gleason (a good friend of Tommy Dorsey's), and hosted by Tommy and Jimmy. Initially planned as a temporary replacement for The Jackie Gleason Show, for the summer of '54, Stage Show became a weekly series in 1955 and lasted until Tommy's untimely death in 1956.
Tommy Dorsey died at his Greenwich, Connecticut, home on November 26, 1956, after apparently choking on food in his sleep after eating a large meal and taking an unknown quantity of sleeping pills.
Married three times, Dorsey had two children, Thomas and Patricia, from his first marriage to Mildred Kraft. He was married to actress Pat Dane from 1943 to 1947. The following year, Dorsey wed Jane New. Dorsey and his third wife were in process of divorcing at the time of his death.