Biography: Dorothy Love Coates

As an athiest, the religious side of gospel music tends to go over my head, however the power and emotion  in some of the vocals is as good as any blues or soul records, this is a biography of one of my favourite gospel singers – Dorothy Love Coates.

A gospel music legend, prolific in the late 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s and a confidant of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement – Dorothy Love Coates was born Dorothy McGriff in Birmingham, Alabama on January 30th, 1928.

Living in a devout but divided bible-belt town at the height of the Jim Crow Laws, preacher’s daughter Dorothy began singing and playing the piano in local black Baptist churches. After being spotted singing at one such church she joined the Gospel Harmonettes, a group led by inspirational pianist Evelyn Starks who were already well established in Birmingham. They began recording gospel standards and self penned songs and travelling the ‘gospel highway’ playing to black audiences in churches throughout the Southern states and the Midwest. Despite this success with the group she rejected countless offers to turn her hand to conventional soul songs stating: “I’ve been anointed to sing gospel music, I can’t walk away from this gift.”

However, whilst she didn’t sing soul she had certainly influenced contemporaries who did. Her records have the preaching power of gospel, the heart of the blues and political message that would become popular first which would become more prevalent in the 60’s with records such as Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. A passionate performer, the influence of her distinctive delivery can be heard in the dulcet tones of Little Richard, whilst Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and The Supremes scored major hits by adapting some of her gospel recordings for the pop charts.

A prolific song writer she wrote and recorded over 300 of her own songs, many of which have since become gospel standards, although the covers lack the soul of her rasping righteous vocals. Dorothy semi retired from the music business in the 60’s to look after her daughter who suffered from Cerebral Palsy, although she did perform live intermittently until her death from heart failure in 2002.

Here are five of my favourite Dorothy Love Coates records.

Strange Man

You’ve Been Good To Me

99 and a Half

One Morning  Soon

Everyday Will Be Sunday

By Callum West


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