Instruments: Vocals
Date of Birth: January 30, 1928
Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama

Acknowledged as a prime influence by no less than Little Richard, the Birmingham, Alabama-based Original Gospel Harmonettes was among the greatest and most successful female gospel groups of the 1950s; led by soloist Dorothy Love Coates, who also composed many of their best-known selections, their music transcended its spiritual foundations to appeal to a secular world on the threshold of the civil rights era. Formed during the mid-1940s, the group - initially dubbed the Harmoneers, later modified to the Lee Harmoneers in the wake of a tour with soprano Georgia Lee Stafford - originally comprised pianist Evelyn Starks Hardy, contralto Odessa Edwards, soprano Vera Kalb, alto Willie Mae Newberry Garth and mezzo-soprano Mildred Miller Howard, their first lead vocalist. Coates enlisted in 1947, but left soon to care for her infant daughter, who was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Rechristened the Gospel Harmonettes by 1950, they soon appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts; their success on the program resulted in a contract with RCA Victor, and prompted the addition of the word "Original" to their name. Their early recordings went nowhere, however, and they signed to Specialty in 1951, at which time Coates rejoined their ranks. The Original Gospel Harmonettes' first Specialty releases, "I'm Sealed" and "Get Away Jordan," quickly shot them to popularity; a pure dynamo in seemingly constant motion, the galvanic Coates cut a sharp contrast to her urbane accompanists, and her songs - often updates of traditional numbers tailored to speak to contemporary issues - struck a powerful chord among listeners. Among Coates' compositions, many - among them "That's Enough" (covered by artists ranging from Ray Charles to Johnny Cash), "He's Right on Time," "You Must Be Born Again," "I Won't Let Go" and "You've Been Good to Me" - clearly qualify as standards.

Hardy retired from the Original Gospel Harmonettes' tours in 1953, although she continued recording with the group; on the road, she was replaced by Detroit pianist Herbert "Pee Wee" Pickard, later an accompanist for James Cleveland. Despite the group's enormous popularity, by the end of the decade both Edwards and Kolb had retired as well, and from 1959 to 1961 the Harmonettes were inactive; during that time, Coates was reborn as a civil rights activist, often working with Martin Luther King. She re-formed the Harmonettes in 1961, with her sister Lillian McGriff and soprano Cleo Edwards joining alongside original members Howard and Garth. Their comeback record, "Come On in My House," was a hit, and although they never quite recaptured the prominence of their golden era the group continued touring until 1971. In later years, Coates frequently toured with McGriff and her daughter, Carletta Coates; she also performed at a number of jazz festivals, and even appeared in the 1990 film The Long Walk Home.

Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Friday, 12 February 2010

DOROTHY LOVE COATES: ALABAMA GOSPEL GREAT

by Jerry W Henry

MY FAVORITE GOSPEL SINGER, DOROTHY LOVE COATES, is perhaps the most underrated gospel vocalist and songwriter of black gospel’s golden age. In Craig Werner’s book, A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, he says “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.”

Dorothy changed the fortunes of many 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.

Dorothy McGriff was born (one of 7 children) into a hard life in Birmingham on January 30, 1928. Her minister father left the family and divorced her mother when she was 6. At the age of 10, Dorothy began playing piano in the Baptist Church, then joined her sisters and brother in the McGriff Singers several years later. Her hard life continued into the ‘40’s, after quitting school (after her 10th grade), scrubbing floors and working in laundry/dry cleaners. ‘’On weekdays I worked for the white man. On weekends I sang for the people,’’ she told Mr. Heilbut in his 1971 book, ‘’The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times.’’

She began singing with the Gospel Harmonettes, then known as the Gospel Harmoneers, in the early 1940s. She married Willie Love of the Fairfield Four, one of the most popular quartets of the early years of gospel, but divorced him shortly thereafter. She subsequently married Carl Coates of the Sensational Nightingales over a decade later. The Gospel Harmonettes— later renamed the Original Gospel Harmonettes— had achieved some fame in an early appearance when the National Baptist Convention came to Birmingham in 1940.

The Original Gospel Harmonettes led by Evelyn Starks, an amazing pianist whose style of playing was much imitated, composer and arranger, featured Mildred Madison Miller, a mezzo soprano who had a down-home sound that came to be a symbol of the group. The Harmonettes was composed of Mildred singing as the lead, with Odessa Edwards, the clear voiced alto whose sermonettes could create a great deal of fervor at performances known as “catching the holy ghost”; Vera Conner Kolb, the piercing soprano of the group whose high notes came with such ease that Marion Williams and other sopranos of the time period imitated her style, and Willie Mae Brooks Newberry, the group’s deep-throated, low-singing anchoring alto, the group had a regular half-hour radio show sponsored by A.G. Gaston, Birmingham businessman and community leader.

Coates rose to stardom in the 1950s as a member of The Original Gospel Harmonettes, the group cut its first hit, ‘’I’m Sealed,’’ and quickly rose to fame on the gospel circuit. With her gruff delivery and blazing theatrics made her one of the giants of the genre outsing the most powerful hard gospel male singers of the era. But what Ms. Coates lacked in vocal purity she more than made up for in her impassioned delivery. She was one of gospel’s great performers, regularly stirring crowds into a frenzy with her intense vocalizations and animated physical style. She was also a notable composer, writing songs such as “You Can’t Hurry God (He’s Right On Time)”, “99 and a Half Won’t Do” and “That’s Enough”.

The group first recorded for RCA in 1949, but without Dorothy Love, after appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television program. Those recordings while not particularly memorable are considered a rare jewel nowadays and include the two songs “In the Upper Room” and “Move on Up a little Higher”.

Their first sides for Specialty Records—”I’m Sealed” and “Get Away Jordan”—recorded with Love in 1951 were far more successful, the group recorded a series of hits in the years that followed before disbanding in 1958. Dorothy was the driving force behind the group’s success, both on record and in person, singing with such spirit that the other members of the group would occasionally have to lead her back to the stage—a device that James Brown copied and made part of his act in the 1960s, but which was wholly genuine in Love’s case. She also took over the role, particularly after Odessa Edwards’ retirement, of preacher/narrator, directing very pointed criticisms from the stage of the evils she saw in the church and in the world at large.

She continued with the Harmonettes throughout the 50’s and 60’s on a variety of record labels, writing much of the group’s material. Among its hits were ‘’You Must Be Born Again’’ and ‘’That’s Enough’’ on the Specialty label, ‘’I Won’t Let Go of My Faith’’ on the Nashboro label and ‘’You’ve Been Good to Me’’ on VeeJay. She also sang ‘’No Hiding Place’’ and ‘’(You Can’t Hurry God) He’s Right On Time.’’

During the years of her retirement, from 1959 to 1961, Dorothy Love—now Dorothy Love Coates—became active in the civil rights movement, working with Dr. 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. She sang at many benefit concerts and in her music alluded to current events. In her 1964 song ‘’The Hymn,’’ she preached: ‘’When the president was assassinated, the nation said, ‘Where is God?’ When the little children lost their lives in the church bombing, the nation cried, ‘Where is God?’ I got the answer for you today: God is still on the throne.’’

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, continued touring with a group known as the Dorothy Love Coates Singers featuring her sister Lillian and other singers from Birmingham. She recorded, both 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 1970. She sang at the Newport Jazz Festival several times, including in a 1975 tribute to Mahalia Jackson at Carnegie Hall. She appeared in two films, in ‘’The Long Walk Home’’ (1990) and in ‘’Beloved’’ (1998), in which she can be seen leading a chorus of ex-slaves in an inspirational song.

Dorothy Love Coates’ music influenced many pop and rhythm-and-blues singers, such as Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers, and Cissy Houston, and she was well aware of that. But she steadfastly refused to betray her calling by singing blues, jazz or any other secular idiom. ‘’I can’t sell out,’’ she told Mr. Heilbut.

Dorothy Love Coates died in Birmingham on April 9, 2002, of heart failure, at the age of 74.

Source: http://www.theplanetweekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1796&Itemid=48


Dorothy Love Coates (January 30, 1928 – April 9, 2002) was an American gospel singer.

Born Dorothy McGriff in Birmingham, Alabama, her early years were hard, although she dismissed them as "the same old thing". Her minister father left the family when she was six, divorcing her mother thereafter. Dorothy began playing piano in the Baptist Church at age ten, then joined her sisters and brother in the McGriff Singers several years later.

Dorothy quit school to work "all the standard Negro jobs" available in Birmingham in the 1940s: scrubbing floors and working behind the counter in laundries and dry cleaners. She began singing with the Gospel Harmonettes— then known as the Gospel Harmoneers— in the early 1940s. She married Willie Love of the Fairfield Four, one of the most popular quartets of the early years of gospel, but divorced him shortly thereafter. She subsequently married Carl Coates of the Sensational Nightingales over a decade later.

Coates rose to stardom in the 1950s as a member of The Original Gospel Harmonettes. With her "raggedy" voice and preacher's fire she could outsing the most powerful hard gospel male singers of the era. She was also a notable composer, writing songs such as "You Can't Hurry God (He's Right On Time)", "99 and a Half Won't Do" and "That's Enough".

The Gospel Harmonettes— later renamed the Original Gospel Harmonettes— had achieved some fame in an early appearance when the National Baptist Convention came to Birmingham in 1940. Led by Evelyn Starks, an amazing pianist whose style of playing was much imitated, composer and arranger, and featuring Mildred Madison Miller, a mezzo soprano who had a down-home sound that came to be a symbol of the group, singing as its lead singer. The group also included, Odessa Edwards, the clear voiced alto whose sermonettes could create a great deal of fervor at performances, Vera Conner Kolb, the piercing soprano of the group whose high notes came with such ease that Marion Williams and other sopranos of the time period imitated her style, and Willie May Yhomss Newberry Garth, the group's deep-throated, low-singing anchoring alto, the group had a regular half-hour radio show sponsored by A.G. Gaston, a local businessman and community leader.

The group first recorded for RCA in 1949, but without Dorothy Love, after appearing on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts television program. Those recordings while not particularly memorable are considered a rare jewel nowadays and include the two songs "In the Upper Room" and "Move on Up a little Higher".

Their first sides for Specialty Records—"I'm Sealed" and "Get Away Jordan"—recorded with Love in 1951 were far more successful, the group recorded a series of hits in the years that followed before disbanding in 1958.

Dorothy was the driving force behind the group's success, both on record and in person, singing with such spirit that the other members of the group would occasionally have to lead her back to the stage—a device that James Brown copied and made part of his act in the 1960s, but which was wholly genuine in Love's case. She also took over the role, particularly after Odessa Edwards' retirement, of preacher/narrator, directing very pointed criticisms from the stage of the evils she saw in the church and in the world at large.

During the years of her retirement, from 1959 to 1961, Dorothy Love—now Dorothy Love Coates—became active in the civil rights movement, working with Dr. 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 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 later, when that group disbanded later in the decade, continued touring with a group known as the Dorothy Love Coates Singers. She recorded, both 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 1970. She appeared in the films "The Long Walk Home" and "Beloved" at the end of her career.

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".

Further reading:

Tony Heilbut, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times Limelight Editions, 1997, ISBN 0-87910-034-6.

Horace Clarence Boyer, How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel Elliott and Clark, 1995, ISBN 0-252-06877-7.

 

 

 

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