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Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey gave Elvis his first exposure on TV, not the Ed Sullivan Show.

To fans of jazz and swing, the Dorsey Brothers need no introduction. As musicians, composers and dance band leaders, they are inextricably linked with the swing craze during the big-band era of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Their numerous hits include “”I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “Boogie-Woogie.” In all they sold a combined total of 110 million records in their 40 year careers.
Born to Thomas Dorsey and Theresa Langton, the two brothers grew up in an Irish mining community in Pennsylvania. A self-taught musician himself, Thomas Dorsey resolved to keep his boys out of the mines, and instead ignited in them his own love of music. He even formed a band with them, the Way Back When Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. After Thomas Sr. quit the band, they became Dorsey’s Novelty Six, later to be renamed Dorsey’s Wild Canaries. The band performed throughout Shenandoah until they broke up in 1922 and Tommy and Jimmy joined the Scranton Sirens.
After two years with the Scranton Sirens, the brothers moved to the Jean Goldkette Jazz Band in Detroit, Michigan. They performed with jazz talents Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. Jimmy began playing the saxophone and clarinet, becoming one of the finest players of his day, while Tommy took up the trombone, coaxing from it a velvety tone that would become his trademark. Tommy was a hot player at heart, having recorded a few hot sides by 1927 and he continued to play with smaller ensembles throughout his career.
The Dorsey’s big break came in 1927 when the Paul Whiteman Orchestra of New York City hired the entire Goldkette band. This brought them radio and recording jobs and performances with singers like Bing Crosby and the Boswell Sisters. In 1934, Tommy and Jimmy formed their own band, the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, with Glenn Miller on second trombone and another rising star Bob Crosby. However, the band broke up only one year later, after a dispute broke out between the two brothers during a Memorial Day weekend performance. The more exacting and temperamental of the two, Tommy is generally blamed for the band’s demise.
Over the next 18 years, the two went their separate ways. Jimmy led the original Dorsey Brothers Band, renamed the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, while Tommy took over a band from Joe Haymes, turning it into the Tommy Dorsey Band, a more jazz-oriented band that featured Frank Sinatra from 1940-42. Tommy and Jimmy enjoyed tremendous success with their respective bands. Both brothers compiled a healthy list of film and television appearances, and they reunited temporarily for the making of the 1947 film bio The Fabulous Dorseys.
In 1953 Jimmy’s band fell apart and the brothers were reconciled. Jimmy joined Tommy’s orchestra and they performed as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey. The brothers performed together for the next three years, and in 1955-56 they enjoyed wide national coverage with their own show on CBS called Stage Show. It was on their show that Elvis made his first TV appearance.
Between their bands together and apart The Dorsey Brothers had 312 charted hits with 29 going to the #1 spot. In Pop Memories 1890-1954; The History of American Popular Music author Joel Whitburn lists the top 100 artists. Tommy Dorsey is fourth, while Jimmy ranks seventeenth. Number one and two are their peers and fellow musicians Bing Crosby and Paul Whiteman respectively.
The two brothers died in their early fifties less than a year apart, Tommy on November 26, 1956 and Jimmy on June 12, 1957. Two days before Jimmy died, he received a gold record for his greatest instrumental, “So Rare.”
dorsyep.jpg
Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey gave Elvis his first exposure on TV, not the Ed Sullivan Show.

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