African American traditional gospel singer and songwriter Dottie Peoples is one of Georgia’s most renowned figures in Christian music. Hailed as the “Songbird of the South” by the late radio host Esmond J. Patterson, Peoples has been compared to gospel and rhythm-and-blues artists Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Patti LaBelle.
Peoples, one of ten children, was born circa 1950 in Dayton, Ohio, to Althea and Robert Milton. As a young girl she spent summers with her grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. There, she was profoundly influenced by all-day Sunday worship services featuring old-fashioned gospel, and she heard the recordings of the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Peoples once told her grandmother she intended to follow in Jackson’s footsteps.
Shortly after completing high school, Peoples was given the opportunity to sing with gospel singer Dorothy Norwood. Brief touring stints with Norwood and Shirley Caesar came later, and Peoples eventually left home to perform with a jazz ensemble led by Groove Holmes, although she did not want her mother to know that she was singing that style of music.
After marrying, she stopped performing and relocated to Atlanta with her then-husband. She joined Salem Baptist Church and became its director of music. In the late 1970s she became the general manager of Church Door Records, a label owned and operated by the church. After producing recordings of the pastor, Jasper Williams Jr., and the church choir, Peoples produced her own albums for the Church Door label, Surely God Is Able (1984) and Is It Worth It All (1987). In 1990 she began hosting The Dottie Peoples Showcase, a gospel radio show on WAOK in Atlanta. The program aired for six years.
Since signing with Atlanta International Records in 1991, Peoples has recorded many noteworthy albums, including several live performances in which she is backed by an energetic choir. Her projects have frequently appeared on the Billboard Gospel chart, and her number-one record, On Time God (1994), remained within or near the top ten for two years.
The recipient of a Gospel Music Association Dove Award, multiple Stellar awards (including the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award), and several Gospel Music Workshops of America awards, Peoples has also been nominated for Grammy and Soul Train awards. In addition to “He’s an On Time God,” other hits include “Testify,” “God Can,” and “Count on God.”
The Talley Trio—a southern gospel group that often accompanies Christian music icons Bill and Gloria Gaither on the “Homecoming Friends” recordings and tours—recorded Peoples’s songs “He’s an On Time God” and “Testify,” thereby introducing her most popular songs to potentially millions more listeners via major arena concerts and televised performances. Peoples has also performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.