Bill Dorsey

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b. William Allen Dorsey, March 1949, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Born to a young unmarried woman, Dorsey later took his stepfather’s surname. While still in the hospital soon after he was born, he…
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Artist Biography by

b. William Allen Dorsey, March 1949, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Born to a young unmarried woman, Dorsey later took his stepfather’s surname. While still in the hospital soon after he was born, he was accidentally blinded. Starting to sing at home to records and radio while still a tiny child, he later sang in church. He taught himself to play piano on an old instrument his mother bought. For a while he attended the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children but left, chiefly because of racial abuse. He did, though, continue with his singing. Injured in a traffic accident in the mid-70s he continued to sing, including a brief spell in Louisville, Kentucky. Back in Pittsburgh, in the mid-80s he gained some local recognition, performing at a nightclub in the North Oakland district where he opened for John Lee Hooker. He also appeared on bills with other touring artists, including Robert Cray and John Hammond Jnr. , during their visits to the city. Mostly, Dorsey performed at private functions and worked occasionally with band leader Harold Betters, but latterly chose to make his living playing and singing on the streets of Pittsburgh.

Dorsey’s hardnosed characteristics have brought conflict with passers-by in the streets and with the authorities, leading to numerous brushes with the law and brief visits to jail. On the streets he has sung unaccompanied but customarily sings to music pre-recorded and played on ramshackle equipment he drags along with him. Dorsey was still playing in the early 00s and his life was recounted at length by Pittsburgh journalist Bill O’Driscoll to whose article much of the foregoing is owed. (NB: Not to be confused with the saxophonist of the same name who played with the Sabby Lewis and Jimmy Tyler bands in the late 40s-early 50s.)