Together, and separate, the Dorsey Brothers were responsible for some of the most memorable music of the 1930s and 1940s. Over the course of their careers they consistently topped the charts with some of the best swing rhythms ever created. Remembered today for their frequent arguments and brawls, the antagonistic spirit between the two brothers was often part of what drove them to great creative heights. They always strove to be the best in their field, and this showed in their strong musical ouput.
Jimmy and younger brother Tommy grew up in a musical family and learned to play instruments while still young. During the 1920s they lead Dorsey's Novelty Six and were members of the Scranton Sirens before moving to New York, where they played in several orchestras, including those of Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman. In the early 1930s they kept busy as studio musicians but occasionally co-led an orchestra, backing such singers as the Boswell Sisters, Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey. In 1934 they officially formed the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Glenn Miller was an early member of the outfit. Kay Weber was the group's only female vocalist. Bob Crosby was the first male vocalist. Bob Eberly replaced Crosby when Crosby left to lead Gil Rodin's new outfit.
Though the two brothers shared leadership, Jimmy typically fronted the band. He and Tommy often argued. The Dorsey's orchestra lasted until the following year, when Tommy, well-known for his temper and acid tongue, stormed off the stage one night. Intent on starting his own band and showing up his brother, he soon took over the Joe Haymes Orchestra, while Jimmy continued with his present group. (For more information on their careers please see their individual biographies.)
The brothers began to reconcile while filming their quasi-biographical movie, The Fabulous Dorseys in 1947. In 1953 they joined together once again to form a new Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. With the help of Jackie Gleason they landed their own popular television program on CBS in 1954, one episode of which featured a then unknown Elvis Presley.
Tommy died in 1956, shortly after his fifty-first birthday, choking to death in his sleep. Jimmy passed away seven months later, after losing a bout with cancer.