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Tommy Dorsey

With his brother Jimmy, Tommy Dorsey’s meteoric career as the leader of a big band and as a trombonist maintained relevance through the twentieth century. Born in Pennsylvania in 1905, Dorsey learned the trumpet, his father’s instrument, before moving to the trombone. By the early 1920s, the Dorsey brothers were performing together as members of the Scranton Sirens. Through the decade, the brothers—as individuals or together—moved between bands in the Midwest and East. The Dorsey Brothers saw their first hit, “Coquette,” in 1929 on Okeh Records. By 1935, the brothers had signed with Decca and had a series of hit singles. Tommy left the band in 1935, formed his own orchestra, and, by the end of the year, had had four hits through RCA Victor. In the early 1940s, the addition of Sy Oliver’s arrangements and Frank Sinatra’s vocals continued the Dorsey band’s success. Fiercely competitive, Dorsey was known to buy out musicians from contracts and, in the case of Glen Miller, sponsored an orchestra and supplied it with material. By 1946, Dorsey had disbanded his orchestra. The post-World War II nadir of big band music saved few groups, but Dorsey’s managed to re-form the next year and, in 1953, added his brother Jimmy. The brothers began to appear on television together and hosted their own show,  Stage Show, which debuted Elvis to a television audience in 1956. Dorsey died in 1956, having achieved a remarkable 286 Billboard charting songs, many of which became standards of the Great American Songbook.