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Dorothy Coates, 74; Gospel Singer and Songwriter

April 15, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Dorothy Love Coates, a singer and songwriter who wrote and recorded such gospel favorites as "Get Away Jordan," "That's Enough" and "(You Can't Hurry God) He's Right on Time," has died. She was 74.

Coates died Tuesday in a Birmingham, Ala., hospital of heart disease.

Armed with a fierce voice and bluesy singing style, Coates was a fixture on the gospel music scene for four decades, playing such famed venues as New York's Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall as well as small halls and churches around the country. She also had small parts in the movies "The Long Walk Home" and "Beloved," in which she led a group of women in a gospel song.

One of seven children and the daughter of a minister, Dorothy McGriff grew up in a row house across the street from a Baptist church in Birmingham. By age 10, she was playing piano for her church. As a teenager, she sang in church choirs and started a gospel group, the McGriff Singers.

At 16, she married Willie Love, a singer with the Fairfield Four. They were divorced 10 years later. Her second marriage, to Carl Coates, a gospel music business manager, lasted 40 years until his death in the late 1990s.

Her career had taken a big step forward in her late teens when she joined the Original Gospel Harmonettes. The group's early recordings of "I'm Sealed," followed by "Get Away Jordan," placed the ensemble in the top ranks of gospel singers.

Over most of the next 25 years, the group made several successful records and concert tours, performing songs written mainly by Dorothy Coates. Other hits for the Harmonettes included "You Must Be Born Again" and "No Hiding Place."

After the Harmonettes disbanded in the early 1970s, Coates continued to record and tour with her own group, Dorothy Love Coates and Her Singers, which also featured her sister Lillian.

Johnny Cash and Ray Charles each recorded "That's Enough," and Coates' song "No Hiding Place" was on the soundtrack to the movie "Ghost." Mahalia Jackson and the Rev. James Cleveland each recorded "(You Can't Hurry God) He's Right on Time." Andrae Crouch recorded "Heaven," and the Blackwood Brothers did "Every Day Will Be Sunday."

Over the years, Coates rejected efforts by record producers to have her venture into more popular music in the manner of Aretha Franklin. "They told me I had to stop singing gospel and cross over to make a dollar," she told a Birmingham newspaper some years ago. "I wouldn't do it. I decided to stay with my maker. There's nowhere else we can go but to the Lord."

She is survived by two daughters, two sisters, a brother and two grandchildren.

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