Long acknowledged as one of the soulfulest voices in post war gospel, veteran DOTTIE PEOPLES took time out from her busy schedule to speak to Mike Rimmer.
She may have one of the most frightening hairstyles in gospel, but her toweringly soulful voice full of acrobatic flourishes and the innate ability to upset any congregation had made Dottie Peoples one of America's biggest gospel stars. With a stack of Stellar, GMWA and Dove awards, Dottie, born in Dayton, Ohio and the eldest of 10 children, is one of the greatest gospel singers of the post war era. Her roots go deep. Her grandmother reports that as a child, Dottie would visit her church in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer holidays. Dottie recalls, "She said I would just be sitting there on the seat, with my eyes all big. When the choir would sing, that would be my part of the service.the singing!" Dottie told her grandmother, "I'm going to be a gospel singer. I'm going to be like Mahalia Jackson when I grow up."
Mahalia sang gospel and so did Dottie. As a teenager she even toured with the Rolling Stones. She remembers, "I sang with Dorothy Norwood, and she had a song called "There's Got To Be Some Rain In Your Life To Appreciate The Sunshine". The Rolling Stones heard the record and they really liked it. So they invited us, a gospel group, to open up the tour. It was Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, and we opened up the tour. For me to be a kid, it was an experience for me. I mean first class! I really enjoyed the whole tour!"
Whilst a lot of gospel singers are tempted to cross over into R&B, for Dottie it was jazz. She explains, "I sung jazz before I really got into gospel full-time. I don't even think about it now. That was something I did when I was younger, you know, trying to try out every thing? I sung jazz." The change came in 1979 when she moved to Atlanta. "I started worshipping at Salem Baptist Church, the reverend Jasper Williams was my pastor. I was still singing secular and I didn't feel right any more. I joined the choir and one Sunday morning I sang "Victory Shall Be Mine" and something just came over me. I just didn't feel right, I just wanted to sing for the Lord."
Her jazz career stopped there and for the next period of her career, she based herself at the church developing a record label and organising the recording of choir albums and music by her pastor. She also recorded her first two solo albums. Starting at grassroots level, Dottie has seen God raise up her ministry. "I worked with the church ministry but now I go all over the country and minister in song. So I have my own ministry now, where I can reach out to souls that I wouldn't if I was sitting at home in church. I'm all over the country now. So he's taken my ministry to a different level."
When it comes to ministry, she shares how she wants to bring a message
of comfort to people. She explains, I'm letting people know that they
need God more than ever before. People don't realise that in the
middle of a lot of the things going on in the world since 9/11, God is
telling everyone to come over to his side. It's a message that time is
winding up. I have a song "Get Your House In Order, We're Living In
The Last Days". I have a lot of songs that have a message, that are
telling those souls that are not saved, that it's time to get on the
Lord's side. Especially our young people now. I have a soft spot for
young people because when we were coming up, we didn't have the peer
pressure that a lot of the children have now. With guns in schools and
so much else going on, I like to reach out to young people, to let
them know they need to get in church. They need to know the Lord and
to work in the church and obey their parents."
She continues, "I think there's so much going on. With the war, a lot of our children are going to go to war and may not come back. So going out there, they need to know God so that if they lose their lives, they can die in Christ. A lot of our children are going out there on the front line and they need to be saved. There's so much going on with the government, the war, terrorists.there's so much going on now that we don't know the day or the hour when it's going to be our last day. We need to be saved when that day comes."
As well as playing her music in churches and doing live shows, Dottie has also acted in a number of popular gospel plays. Reflecting on the success of plays, she says, "People like to be entertained. And the plays, they can go there, it's a different setting. And I was really just thrown off my feet when I did my first play, church folk sit there and it's like entertainment for them. It's like going to the movies, or the opera, so they go. Also a lot of people go to plays who don't go to church. Often when I'm performing in a play, they let me be myself and I minister just like I would in concerts. I've had so many people come up to me and say 'I don't even go to church but tonight has changed my life!'"
Worldwide recognition for her ministry was probably helped most by the success of her album 'On Time God' at America's Stellar Awards in 1995. The title cut has become Peoples' signature tune. Further awards followed as the '90s turned into a new millennium. At the week of the Stellar Awards in 2002, Dottie recorded her most recent album 'Churchin' With Dottie'. She remembers, "We recorded it on a Wednesday night. It was supposed to be a recorded session but it turned into a church service! We praised God all night, they shouted all night. I named it 'Churchin' With Dottie' because that's what we did! It was a church service, it wasn't a recording session. The anointing was there and it was just phenomenal!"
The album is packed with highlights but there is one song that always sends shivers down my spine while I'm listening to it. Dottie tells me about "Your Gory". She explains, "When I hand picked all my material, I said 'Wait! I don't have a praise song!'. So one of our label execs who works with artists brought into the conference room a tape that had been recorded by a writer who had wanted to submit some songs. And we listened, like I had listened to all the other songs. All of a sudden, 'Your Glory' came on and the whole room went quiet. I wondered whether the writer Steven Heard would let me sing it, but we went ahead. A while later I was at the James Cleveland Workshop and Steven walked up to me, I had never met him before and he said 'I want to tell you that I LOVE the way you did my song!' He was overjoyed over the way that we arranged it. But the message and the spirit of the song, I knew this was the praise song that I wanted to do on 'Churchin' With Dottie'."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.