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Dorothy Love Coates

Perhaps the most underrated gospel vocalist and songwriter of black gospel's golden age, Dorothy Love Coates represented, in the words of Craig Werner's A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, "the best of what the early '60s offered: a model of call and response rooted in an unflinching engagement with history; an understanding of the world that sends pulses of energy back and forth between gospel and the blues; an unwavering commitment to the beloved community; a refusal to be seduced into a mainstream where the value of life is measured in money; and music so powerful it can change your life."

It changed the fortunes of many more famous music stars. Holland-Dozier-Holland based the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" on Coates' "(You Can't Hurry God) He's Right on Time"; Wilson Pickett used the Gospel Harmonettes' version of the classic theme "99 and a Half Won't Do" as the model for his soul hit; Little Richard, among others, copied Coates' stentorian vocal leads. In addition, Coates was one of the few gospel stars to vocally oppose segregation, often appearing at civil rights rallies during the late '50s and early '60s. ("The Lord has blessed our going out and our coming in. He's blessed our sitting in, too.") This was all the more brave because Coates lived in Birmingham, AL, the most dangerous city in the U.S. for such activists, and she was not then singing professionally. "At night I'd sing for the people, days I'd work for the white man," as she put it to gospel historian Tony Heilbut.

The Gospel Harmonettes -- Mildred Miller Howard, mezzo-soprano; Odessa Edwards, contralto and sermonizer; Willie May Newberry, contralto; and pianist Evelyn Starks -- were already Birmingham radio celebrities in the 1940s when the several years younger Dorothy McGriff joined them. After winning on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts TV program, the Harmonettes made some less than stellar sides for RCA in 1949. With Dorothy taking over more forcefully, they became national gospel stars soon after they began recording for Specialty Records in 1951.

That July, they traveled to Hollywood and made "I'm Sealed" and "Get Away Jordan," both of which became standards. Dorothy soon married Willie Love, the great lead voice of the Fairfield Four, although that marriage didn't last long. (She later married Carl Coates, bass voice and guitarist with the Sensational Nightingales, thus becoming Dorothy Love Coates.) The group's summer 1953 Specialty session produced "No Hiding Place," another classic; their 1956 date, "You Must Be Born Again"; and in August 1956, the group's two greatest recordings, "99 and a Half Won't Do" and, above all, "That's Enough."

They traveled the "gospel highway" from church to church and town to town, all through the South, Midwest, and in such northern cities as Philadelphia, New York, and Newark (where her childhood friend, Alex Bradford, was also established as a gospel star). In 1959, they began recording for Savoy Records in Newark. From later in 1959 to 1961, Dorothy retired to care for a newborn daughter with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. In 1961, the group, which adjusted its membership to include Cleo Kennedy (later a backup singer for Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen), recorded for Savoy, and then in 1964 for Vee-Jay, an affiliation that lasted until 1968, when they did a few songs for Okeh/Columbia (including the remarkable "Strange Man") and made some discs for Nashboro. Neither Coates nor her group recorded since about 1970, although Coates was intermittently active in live performance during subsequent years.

As a vocalist, Dorothy Love Coates stood out from any previous female lead in gospel because she was as much preacher as singer. Her vocals were always hoarse, sometimes sounding as if she'd actually damaged her throat shouting and testifying. But she swung behind all that hammering, and her records have power and drive that is virtually unmatched in any American music. ~ Dave Marsh
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Nuggets Of The Golden Age Of Gospel 1945-1958

Disc 1

2. I'm Tramping

5. He Knows My Heart

8. Each Day

9. Lead Me To That Rock

11. Mother's Song

12. Jesus Is The Name

13. Same Train

14. Lord's Prayer

16. One Day

17. I'd Rather Serve Jesus

18. At The Cross

19. Lord's Gospel Train

20. Bedside Of A Neighbor

21. There Is Rest For The Weary

23. On The Highway

25. Jesus Be My Keeper

26. Walking In Jesus Name

Disc 2

1. Let Us Run

2. Come Over Here

5. No Matter How You Pray

7. Ship Of Zion

8. Jesus Bears The Cross

9. My God Is Real

11. Another Soldier Gone

12. Trouble In Mind

13. Toll The Bells

14. I Need Thee

15. There'll Be No More Sorrow

16. One Day When I Was Walking (I'm In His Care)

18. Angel

19. Lord Have Mercy

22. Cry Sometime

26. Old Time Religion

Disc 3

2. Our Prayer

5. Prayer For Tomorrow

6. Yes It's Me Lord, That Came To Thee

7. Who So Ever Will

8. Pilgrim Of Sorrow (Take 1)

10. He's Alright With Me

11. I Was So Happy

13. Lord, Will I Meet Them Again

14. I Want To Go To Heaven

15. Burying Ground

24. Come Home

Disc 4

1. I Can See So Much

2. Sit Down And Rest Awhile

3. Didn't It Rain

6. Glad To Be In The Number

7. Walk With Me

14. Roll, Jordan, Roll

15. Didn't It Rain

16. Rock My Soul

19. Hard To Get Along

20. Mother Bowed

23. When I Lay This Body Down

25. I Never Knew

x

Track List: Testify! The Gospel Box

Disc 1

1. Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition

2. Stalin Wasn't Stallin'

3. Milky White Way

4. Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around

6. Just A Closer Walk With Thee

8. Too Close To Heaven

9. Let's Go Out To The Programs

10. Amazing Grace

12. Somewhere To Lay My Head

14. All Things Are Possible

15. Didn't It Rain

17. Precious Lord

18. Mary Don't You Weep

Disc 2

1. Mighty High

2. Oh Happy Day

3. Lord, Don't Move The Mountain

6. I Go To The Rock

8. No Charge

11. How I Got Over

12. Walk Around Heaven All Day

13. Strange Man

Disc 3

1. Show Up!

3. Spread Love

4. Tomorrow

6. Be Encouraged

7. A Message For The Saints

8. I Believe

9. Deep River/Campground

10. How I Depend On You

12. Order My Steps

13. The Battle Is The Lord's

14. Dear God

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