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Mon, 01.30.1928

Dorothy Coates, Gospel Vocalist born

Dorothy Coates

*Dorothy Coates was born on this date in 1928.  She was a Black gospel vocalist. 

Born Dorothy McGriff in Birmingham, Alabama, she was one of seven children of a minister.  She sang in local churches and started a family group, the Royal Gospel Singers, as a teenager.  Coates joined the Gospel Harmonettes, a well-known Birmingham group, and in 1951 the group recorded its first hit, I'm Sealed, and quickly rose to fame on the gospel circuit.  She continued with them throughout the '50s and '60s on a variety of record labels, writing much of the group's material.  

Coates was just as plainspoken when criticizing the exploitative treatment that she and other gospel singers received from gospel promoters, both white and Black. She reformed the Harmonettes in 1961, and when that group disbanded later in the decade, she continued touring with a group known as the Dorothy Love Coates Singers. She recorded, individually and with her group, on Savoy Records, Vee-Jay Records, and Columbia Records in the 1960s and made occasional appearances, but no recordings, after 1980. She appeared in the films "The Long Walk Home" and "Beloved" at the end of her career.   

During the years of her retirement, from 1959 to 1961, Coates became active in the American Civil Rights Movement, working with Martin Luther King Jr. As she was fond of telling church audiences, "The Lord has blessed our going out and our coming in. He's blessed our sitting in, too."  While many other gospel artists were slow to address political issues head-on, Coates spoke out against the war in Vietnam, racism, and other evils.  Coates died in Birmingham on April 9, 2002, of heart failure, at the age of 74.

While Coates vigorously rejected all offers to cross over to pop or soul music, a number of artists, including Little Richard, imitated her sanctified singing style. Other secular songwriters drew on her songs for inspiration, sometimes simply taking the title, as in the case of Wilson Pickett's wholly different soul tune "99 and a Half Won't Do", and sometimes adapting both lyrics and title, as in the case of the Supremes's hit "You Can't Hurry Love." Jerry Garcia Band recorded her "I'll Be With Thee" on their Cats Under the Stars album and performed "Strange Man" in concert. Singer Mavis Staples has also stated that Dorothy Love Coates was an influence on her vocal style.  

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