Dorothy Love-Coates: Gospel Roots - Remembering a great gospel matriarch

Friday 17th January 2003

Tony Cummings looks at the contribution made to gospel music by matriarch DOROTHY LOVE-COATES

Dorothy Love-Coates: Gospel Roots - Remembering a great gospel matriarch

When Dorothy Love-Coates died of heart disease on April 9th 2002, America's best selling Christian music magazines, CCM and HM, made no mention of the gospel matriarch's passing. Maybe that omission reflected the American contemporary Christian music scene's scandalous ignorance of the black church roots of much of its music. Yet this singer, the lead voice of the female gospel group the Gospel Harmonettes, was in the '50s one of gospel music's most revered singers. And even when her fame had passed her gutsy, bluesy voice could still be heard when the Gospel Harmonettes' "No Hiding Place" was featured on the movie smash Ghost. Dorothy Love-Coates was a giant of gospel music. Author Anthony Heilburt wrote in his book The Gospel Sound, "Were gospel to be more publicly acclaimed, Dorothy Love-Coates might have the stature of a Billie Holliday or a Judy Garland. Instead, for thousands of black people, she is THE message singer, the one they can trust."

The gospel great was born Dorothy McGriff in 1928, the daughter of a preacher out of Birmingham, Alabama. First singing with her mother's family group the Royal Travellers, she formed the Gospel Harmonettes who tore up black churches from Bangor to Chula Vista with a fervent firebrand-type of gospel full of jubilation and joy. In the beginning, the group modeled themselves after The Roberta Martin Singers and took as their mentors Robert Anderson and the Rev W Herbert Brewster. The group was first called the Harmoneers, a name changed to the Lee Harmoneers after they started to tour with Georgia Lee Stafford. In the spring of 1949, the group, now billing themselves as the Gospel Harmonettes, appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts programme and won a recording contract with RCA Victor. However, serious illness prevented Dorothy singing on the RCA sessions.

Things were looking bad for Dorothy. Her marriage to Willie Love of the Fairfield Four had failed and she was penniless and vocally weakened by her illness. Her break came when in the spring of 1951 Professor Alex Bradford, singer, composer and gospel talent scout for Art Rupe, had the group signed to Specialty Records. A string of major selling records spanning a five year period ensued and such self-penned classics as "(He May Not Come When You Want Him But) He's Right On Time", "You Must Be Born Again" and "That's Enough" were amongst the finest female gospel records of her or any era.

The Gospel Harmonettes recorded briefly for Andex in 1958, but Dorothy decided the group should retire. The singer married Carl Coates, bass singer and manager for the Nightingales. However, gospel singing was in Dorothy's blood. By the early '60s the Gospel Harmonettes had reformed and the group began a four year stint with Savoy Records followed, amazingly, by a single for hitmaking pop R&B company Motown. Next came a three and a half year stint with Vee Jay Records of Chicago. Then followed an album for both Hob and Okeh before the group signed with Nashboro in 1968. The Gospel Harmonettes at this point included Dorothy Love-Coates (lead), Mildred Miller Howard (lead), Lillian McGriff, Cleo Kennedy and Willie Mae Newberry Garth.

One of the many superb Specialty recordings featured on the Ace distributed 24-track compilation 'The Best Of Dorothy Love-Coates And The Original Gospel Harmonettes' was "When I Reach My Heavenly Home" where the great gospel diva whooped and hollered in anticipation of her heavenly destination. For this gutsy traveller down the gospel highway, the waiting is now over. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


 

Reader Comments

Posted by Ruth in Maryland @ 02:57 on Jan 12 2017

I love Dorothy Love Coats, she is my favorite female gospel xinge. My favorite songs by her are Strange Man, He May Not Come When You Want Him, and I'm Holding On. Her voice was so strong and filed with Holy Ghost, you could see and hear the Lord using her. She week be missed, no one could take her place.



Posted by Willie E. Means in Columbus, Georgia @ 14:33 on Feb 24 2016

Hello. Hopefully I get a reply. Ms. DLC has I know at least one album in hiding somewhere. We were a small Gospel Group from Bessemer, Alabama that also did a little singing in Chicago in the late '60s early 70s. Mom loved Ms. DLC and we song many of her songs. I stated above two songs that it seem no one has heard of: Her version of "Hand writing on the wall and a different version of Heaven." I don't know if both songs were on the same album but I know we had song her "All over this land, Christian Army, and Prodigal Son" from previous albums. Perhaps this was her recording time in Chicago. Help Please! GOD BLESS!!!



Posted by Tony in Redlands, Ca. @ 18:23 on Nov 2 2013

I'm turning 18, about two or three years ago I started listening to Dorothy Love Coates after hearing 'Heaven' playing on an episode of Memphis Beat, a TV show I don't even watch, I was changing the channels when I heard the song.
My dad listens to gospel, the Holy Ghost filled gospel. He was always trying to get me into gospel but I didn't like it. But when I heard Dorothy, I've been hooked since. My music is now around 95 percent gospel with Dorothy Love Coates my number one artist. My gospel music comes from the 40's to the 80's. I have most of the old time gospel artists. The music of today on the radio is trash. There is no one like Dorothy Love Coates!


Reply by willie means in Columbus, Ga. @ 01:11 on Jun 26 2015

The song "Heaven" by 'DLC' was recorded by her on an album around '68. However, this "Heaven" was different. The song began: "If You live right! Heaven. Got to moan right. Heaven. Treat everybody right. Heaven. Sisters and Brothers. Heaven...etc" I believe at that time she also did "Hand writing on the wall." These two songs are like hidden and I've never heard them outside of Chicago.

[report abuse]


Posted by Ruth in Maryland @ 01:39 on Apr 11 2013

My goodness, Dorothy Love Coates could sing, growl, shout, holler, minister, preach and turn a song inside out. She is one of y favorite gospel singers, I play her music every day. If a had tenth of her musical ability, I would be a happy sister! Bless you for the information you shared. I guess my favorites by her are If you dont believe, I'm still holding on, and A Strange Man.



Posted by Shirley Thomas in Jacksonville, Florida @ 03:42 on May 27 2012

Dorothy Love Coats & The Harmonettes was one of the best groups to sing for the Lord, the best group I ever heard. in the past. They sung songs that you could understand. City four square was first song by the harmonettes. She will get her reward in heaven. City four squqreis now song by the Mississippi Mass choir, Name 'They got the word"



Posted by linda edmond in Middleetown,Ohio @ 19:10 on Nov 9 2011

I love what I read Would like to know if I could find some of her music o cd's. please let me know. thank you.



Posted by Iona Williams in Joliet, Illinois @ 19:07 on Jul 13 2011

Mrs Dorothy Love Coates was one of a kind. Every since I was a little girl and her music was taught to me by my Godfather, Mr Walter Younge, was who a very good and downhome friend to Ms. Coates; it was my desire, as a child, to want to sound like Ms Dorothy but later I found out different.
However, this God fearing woman was most dynamic in her presentations. My life was quite motivated by her contribution because, without a doubt, everybody knew that Ms Dorothy loved the Lord.



Posted by SUSIE DAVIS in ST,LOUIS. MO @ 15:18 on Mar 7 2011

I REMEMBER AS A CHILDREN DORTHY LOVE-COTE SHE WAS THE GREAT SINGER GIFTY FROM GOD AT 70 I LOOK BACK TO HER SONGS,HE'S CALLING ME, LORD YOU'V BEEN GOOD TO ME, I AM HOLDING ON WHEN IT SEEM AS THO I WAS ALL LONE THES SONGS LIFTED MY SPIRIT.



Posted by Danette Foreman in Montgomery, Alabama @ 03:42 on Jan 11 2011

When my grandmother passed away. I heard a song form the City Built Four Square CD and the name of this song is "I'll Make It' with Gwen Mc Kinney, when she said "not my will, but God's will be done" something in me felt better. This song let me knoe that not matter what I did God's will was done. God used Dorothy in a mighty wasy to bring souls to his kingdom. She may not have been paid in money, but her gain is Heaven.



Posted by PAULETTA COATES in ATLANTA, GA. @ 01:34 on Jan 7 2011

DOROTHY,AND THE GROUP WAS THE BEST.I STILL LISTEN TO HER MUSIC RIGHT TODAY GLAD I AM ,CITY BUILT FOUR SQUARE,HE, CALLING ME. I CAN GO ON,AND ON, AND ON I MISS HER DEARLY



The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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