She’s been called "the gospel Patti LaBelle," and the latest album and home video from Dottie Peoples shows just why when she sings, there’s not a soul sitting in their seat. For her ninth album, God Can & God Will: Live In Atlanta (Atlanta International Records), released March 23, 1999, backed by a 225-person choir, Peoples jumped around, slid across stage, and rocked the house for an audience of 4,500 at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia.
"We shouted and had a good time," says Peoples, a leader of the next generation of female gospel greats, a heritage passed down from Mahalia Jackson to Aretha Franklin to Shirley Caesar. "It was so exciting, I was about ready to fall to the ground."
With her signature song "On Time God" a modern gospel classic, Peoples, nominated for the Soul Train Lady of Soul Award and winner of the Stellar’s prestigious James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award, introduced the title track by singing "God Can" at the latest Stellar Awards. Yet it’s her appeal to youngsters, teens and young adults that’s extraordinary among artists labeled "traditional gospel." On God Can & God Will, she features a handful of contemporary songs including for the first time, a rap (performed by Tony Ammons in the song "Show Some Sign").
"Gospel has to change a bit for the new generation because
young people need gospel, need to hear a word from the Lord, now more than ever. By the time I leave the stage, I want to have an impact on somebody’s life."
Recorded September 9, 1998, God Can & God Will also features "We Give You Praise Lord," with a preaching introduction by the church’s Bishop Eddie L. Long, the ballad "All My Help" and a first-ever appearance by Peoples’ mother, Althea Milton, on "Oh What A Time." Performing with largest choir she’s ever recorded with, Peoples says the energy level was even greater than usual, and she knew a live video would be needed to capture the experience. "And we kept in all the shouting," she says happily.
Whether on album, video, the road, (she was the hit of the Power ’98 tour), singing the National Anthem at Atlanta Hawks and Braves games or performing with the Atlanta Symphony, Peoples moves and audience with a fire, a spirit and a joy overflowing with both the power and the glory. "Any of us who sings gospel is anointed. We feel and sing from the soul. I try to make the audience feel they’re a part of me. I am not shy. I’m a big talker, friendly, I meet no strangers—and on stage that all comes out."
The eldest of 10 children, Peoples was born in Dayton, Ohio,
where her father worked for General Motors. "I’m the only one who sings in my family," she says, adding with a laugh. "We’ll never have that Winans Family thing going." She spent her summers in Birmingham, Alabama, where her grandmother took her to church all day Sunday. "My grandmother said I’d always be sitting at the edge of the pew watching the singers. She said that when I was little I told her "I’m gonna be like Mahalia Jackson some day."
Peoples sang in the high school concert choir, in her church
choir; anywhere she could sang. Blessed with a vocal range from earthly to angelic, alto to tenor to soprano, she would have joined legendary gospel singer Dorothy Norwood’s group right after high school but her mother wouldn’t let her go on the road. A couple of years later, however, she did briefly tour with Norwood, and with Caesar. Finally, she left home when she sneaked away to join a jazz ensemble led by organist Groove Holmes. "I didn’t want my mom to know I was singing that kind of music," she says. For five years, she performed at America’s top jazz clubs.
When she married, she stopped performing and moved with her then-husband to Atlanta. But she couldn’t stay away too long from singing. Working at Salem Baptist Church, Peoples talked the pastor into starting a record label. "Rev. Dr. Jasper Williams, Jr., was known for preaching but I saw he had another talent too, and so I encouraged him to sing." In the late 70’s, Peoples became general manager of Church Door Records, and produced albums for the pastor, the church choir, and her first two solo efforts:
Surely God Is Able (1984) and Is It Worth It All (1987).
In 1990, she began hosting, directing and producing "The Dottie Peoples’ Showcase," a popular gospel program on Atlanta radio’s WAOK (until 1996). In 1991, she signed with Atlanta International and, the same year, "Live" At Salem Baptist Church, including the poignant "Hold On," earned Peoples her first Stellar nomination, for Best Female Solo Performance – Traditional.
But it was 1994’s On Time God which truly raised her up. Reaching #1 on the gospel charts, Peoples, On Time God and the title song swept the Stellar Awards (Album, Song, Female Vocalist, and Choir of the Year) and the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) Awards (Album, Female Vocalist and Song of the Year). She was also nominated for Soul Train’s Lady of Soul Award.
Following Christmas With Dottie (1995), Count On God (1996) debuted at #4 on the charts. Winning the Stellar Female Vocalist award, Gospel Album of the Year from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors, and GMWA Awards for Album, Female Vocalist and Song of the Year (for "Count On God"), the album was also nominated for Best Gospel Album at the Soul Train Awards and Traditional Gospel Album of the Year at the Dove Awards.
In 1996, she was invited to sing with Harry’s Jazz Symphony by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the first time that group had showcased a gospel artist. "I always dreamed of singing with a full orchestra. I was on top of the clouds." The next year, Testify earned Dove Nominations for Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year and Traditional Gospel Album of the Year. The 1999 edition of WOW Gospel, a compilation of the most popular and best-selling gospel songs, includes "Testify," just as the previous year’s volume featured "On Time God."
But Peoples is more than a singer. She not only sang these two favorite but wrote them too. She’s also a Producer, for Rev. Dreyfus Smith and The Wings Of Faith Mass Choir (her Pastor and home church), Rev. Andrew Cheairs & The Songbirds of Byhalia, Mississippi, and herself, including God Can & God Will. A savvy businesswoman as well, Peoples ha been a spokesperson for companies such as Gillette (for hair product Lustrasilk) and Colbert’s women’s clothing store, familiar throughout the South. She also travels on her own tour bus with a four-piece band (guitar, keyboards, bass and drums), expanding to a five-piece this year with the addition of a keyboard/synthesizer player.
Her previous album, The Collection: Songs Of Faith, Hope & Love (1998), was a compilation of her most requested inspirational ballads. Its liner notes included testimonies from people deeply touched by her songs, among them this emotional letter:
"I was on drugs for eleven years and had no hope in life at all. I tried to kill myself several times. I sold my body for drugs. I stole, cheated and did everything for my habit. I found my life falling apart and having nowhere to go. I had a 9mm pulled on me, but by the grace of God the bullet didn’t come out of the barrel. I heard your song on the radio, and I knew God stepped in "On Time." This will always be my song of praise."
Her songs have indeed inspired and uplifted. With a loving, down-to-earth, up-to-heaven personality, and a singing style that gets listeners up out of their seats, Peoples has been able to draw people, particularly young people, to her side. "I guess it’s because I’m quick to hug them," she says. They, in turn, have surely embraced Dottie Peoples.
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