dottie rambo

Dottie Rambo will perform at People’s Church on Saturday.

For 60 years, Dottie Rambo has been changing lives in song and word. This Saturday, she will share her talents at People’s Church in Jacksonville for a special concert. People’s Church, located on U.S. 79 east of Jacksonville, will have seating and TV screens in the fellowship hall, with facilities to hold several hundred spectators. Admission is free.

By Barry Drudge


Dottie Rambo was born Joyce Reba Lutrell in Madison, Kentucky during the Great Depression. Her family next set up residence in Morganfield near relatives. The financial crunch that gripped the nation didn’t miss a single part of the country — including Dottie’s home place. But the stamina of friends and family during tough times instilled a resilience in little Dottie that would all too soon be needed in her travels far from home. Songwriting found her at a young age. The eight-year-old Dottie was out playing in the creek when words and music for her first song came bubbling forth. It startled her so much that she ran all the way home to tell her mother. As she excitedly sang it, her mother’s face went through myriad emotions.

“Did you hear this song somewhere?” her mother asked.

“No ma’am,” Dottie said.

“Are you sure that you didn’t hear it on the radio?”

“Oh no mamma,” Dottie said, “It came from me.”

Her mother held her close and cried. She told Dottie this great gift would be a blessing and a burden. She told her to treasure and guard it.

By ten, little Dottie was playing guitar and singing on local country radio. Her skill and flair made her family proud. Her father enjoyed her gift and hoped to see her go beyond their meager living to become a singer on Nashville’s WSM Grand Ole Opry. But a career as a country singer/songwriter was not to be. Dottie gave her life to Christ at the age of twelve.

Her conversion was fiercely protested by her father, a man whose own strong will had no time for religion. He wanted to see his daughter make it big and live better, not suffer singing in backwoods churches for little or no pay. He made an ultimatum: either stop the Christian singing or leave his house. Dottie chose to stick with the feelings that had ignited in her heart. She would take the road that made most sense to her — singing about Jesus. Dottie was escorted the few miles to the bus stop by her mother. All her earthly belongings were in a cardboard suitcase. Her name and address were on a tag around her neck — just in case she got lost. The 12-year-old had been invited to sing in Indianapolis, Indiana and would be going it alone.

Offerings were taken up everywhere she went, and she sent a portion home, a portion saved for tithes and the rest to buy clothes and guitars. By the 1950s she married and had her daughter, Reba. But the call to sing the songs of her heart never diminished. She and her husband, Buck Rambo, would travel across the region and sing her songs at churches for little money. Other singing groups heard her songs and started singing them too.

Through one of these groups, the Happy Goodman Family, her songs caught the attention of the then- governor of Louisiana, Jimmy Davis. Governor Davis flew her and her family to the governor’s mansion so that she could sing her songs for him. It was her first plane ride.

Governor Davis paid Dottie around $3,000 to publish her songs. It was more money than she had ever seen. Once Jimmy Davis Music started promoting Dottie Rambo songs in the early 1960s, things would never be the same. During this time Warner Brothers Records signed Dottie and her group, The Gospel Echoes, to a two-record deal. In the middle of it, Warners’ executives didn’t know what to do with Christian music and suggested that the group move to folk (which the label did with Peter, Paul and Mary) and that Dottie consider doing Rhythm and Blues. She declined both offers. Her heart was in Gospel music.

Within the span of a few more years Dottie went from $50 a week singing in churches to singing at the largest concert dates across the country. Dottie was one of the first Gospel singers, along with her family the Singing Rambos, to sing in Viet Nam for the American troops in 1967. Dottie’s heart led her to the medical tents where men were hurt and dying.

Dottie sang, prayed and ministered to those who were hurt beyond repair. Her 1968 album, “The Soul Of Me” won the Grammy for best Gospel Album. Billboard magazine called her “Trendsetter of the year” because of singing with an all-black choir. Dottie continued to observe and adapt. After writing her heartfelt blockbuster, “He Looked Beyond My Faults (And Saw My Need),” the doors opened for her songs to be recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley, Barbara Mandrell, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Whitney Houston, Vince Gill, Dottie West, Pat Boone, Sandy Patty, the Oak Ridge Boys and countless others.

Whitney Houston recorded, “I Go To The Rock” for the Movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” and won a Dove (along with Dottie) for performing a song that Dottie’s own record company wouldn’t let her release because they originally felt it was too “rock and roll.”

But her life has not been all highs. Like her lyric, “You will have to live the song before you know,” she has known heartache, loss, betrayal, abandonment ending with severe back trauma that would end most careers.

Since 1989 Dottie has endured severe back pain from a ruptured disc that caused her vertebrae to calcify to her spinal cord. But a dozen surgeries have not quieted her gift.

Throughout the 1990s Dottie continued to sing across the country and on television, and the accolades kept coming in. In 1994 the Christian Country Music Association awarded her with the Songwriter of the Century Award. In 2000, ASCAP honored Dottie with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. The 21st century brought had her back in the recording studio making her 71st album, “Stand By The River.”

Not only was the project strong in song and performance, but had the added bonus of country legend Dolly Parton joining in on the title track. Again it was a chart topper-giving Dottie hit records through five decades. And it had the added prestige of the duet with Dolly being nominated for CCMA song of the year, duet of the year, Dove nominated for Country Recorded Song Of The Year, Gospel Fan Awards for Duo Of The Year and Song Of The Year. All that bubbling out of a little girl from Kentucky.