Willie James Dorsey, a noted Buffalo musician and music teacher, died Sunday in Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 79.
Born in Buffalo, he was a 1950 graduate of Fosdick-Masten Park High School and was one of six African-American students who broke the color barrier at Fredonia State Teachers College that September.
An article in the Fredonia Censor newspaper in 1950 declared that Mr. Dorsey was the most talented freshman to enter the college in 10 years, noting that he gave a recital on six instruments and sang in bass, baritone and tenor ranges.
After earning his bachelor's degree in music in 1954, he studied at the University of Tokyo, the University of Buffalo and Eastman School of Music. He served in the Air Force as a member of the Air Force Band.
Returning from service, he taught and led bands and choruses in the Buffalo schools, first at School 37, then at Riverside High School, Lafayette High School, South Park High School and East High School, retiring about 30 years ago.
In retirement, he and his wife owned and operated W&C Enterprises, which sold herbal products and African items at summer fairs and festivals.
Mr. Dorsey began playing bass, piano and trombone as a youngster and performed at Buffalo's Colored Musicians Club while still in high school. He served on the club's board of directors for many years and was featured in a television documentary about the club.
An admirer of Duke Ellington, he used Ellington as an inspiration for the Last Word Jazz Researchers Big Band, of which he was the founding director. His group is scheduled to play next Thursday in the M&T Plaza Event Series.
He also played with many of the area's leading ensembles, including the CQ Price Band, the Buffalo Bills Band, the Orchard Park Symphony and the Cecil Johnson Orchestra.
A member of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church since 1940, he was its choir director and organist for more than 30 years. At one time, he also directed the Johnson Male Chorus, the Delaine Waring AME Church Choir and the Suburban Serenaders.
Mr. Dorsey was active in community affairs and the civil rights movement. He was vice chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Trust and helped organize celebrations of King's birthday and other public events. He received numerous music and service awards.
His wife of 16 years, Cynthia Marie Wilhite Dorsey, died in 2006.
Surviving are three sons, Kevin J., John L. Wilson and Anthony M. Washington; two daughters, Dara J. and Holly J. Pasquale; and three stepsons, Martin A. White, Richard A.
Tyree and Lawrence J. Payton.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, 641 Masten Ave.