Her songs touch millions. Her voice is heard around the world; her heart an open book. Celebrating 60 years of changing lives in song and word — this is Dottie Rambo. Kentucky is an essential ingredient in Dottie’s makeup. Its hills and streams were her playground. The rhythm of its people’s speech the early pattern for her music’s cadence. No matter where she has traveled, the pull of the bluegrass state has never been far away. Dottie Rambo was born Joyce Reba Lutrell in Madisonville, 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 voice sounded beyond its years as she covered now-classics like Ernest Tubb’s Walkin’ the Floor Over You. 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 12. 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 backwood 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. As hard as it is to imagine in our modern child safety-conscious world, 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 twelve-year-old had been invited to sing in Indianapolis, Indiana and would be going it alone. “I am going to worry God to death over you,” her mother sobbed.
Dottie hugged her and assured her that she would be all right, and all right she was. People were amazed to hear such a big voice come from such a little girl with an even bigger guitar. 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. Dottie realized early on that people didn’t come to see some little urchin. They came to see somebody who had it all together, and Dottie was all that and more. 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. Many times they held down day jobs while driving many miles throughout the night to arrive just in time to sing and go back home. 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. She felt this meeting required greater deportment than she had ever considered. But Dottie was a quick learner. Her gifts of observation and adaptation (plus a healthy dash of competitive spirit) have continued to serve her well in the face of an ever-changing and progressing music scene. Governor Davis paid Dottie around three-thousand dollars 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 and couldn’t be budged.
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. She and the trio were the first non-quartet singers to sing at the Gospel Quartet Convention. 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. But Dottie didn’t stop at the stage. 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. Nobody asked her to, but Dottie Rambo went above and beyond the call of duty at every turn. Her 1968 album, The Soul of Me won the GRAMMY for Best Gospel Album, beating out the likes of Mavis Staples and James Cleveland. Billboard magazine called her “Trendsetter of the year” because of singing with an all-black choir. Her recordings held fast to the cutting edge, using top Nashville musicians, always making her records on par with anybody else on the charts. Dottie continued to observe and adapt. And the songs never stopped. 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 luminary artists as: Elvis Presley, Barbara Mandrell, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Whitney Houston, Vince Gill, Dottie West, Pat Boone, Sandi Patty, the Oak Ridge Boys and countless others. Her ability to use the right words and haunting melodies make her songs timeless — all 2500 plus that have been counted through ASCAP! Dottie’s children’s project, Down by the Creek Bank, is one of the most successful Christian children’s records in history, earning platinum record status.
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 endured severe back pain from a ruptured disc that caused her vertebrae to calcify to her spinal cord. But Dottie could not be kept down! A dozen surgeries did not quiet her gift. Throughout the 1990s Dottie continued to sing across the country and on television. Each step made her stronger. Each moment she sang and spoke to others built her confidence and strength. And the accolades kept coming in. In 1994 the Christian Country Music Association awarded her with the Songwriter of the Century Award. Even the industry outside Gospel music has taken note of all that Dottie Rambo has accomplished. In 2000, ASCAP honored Dottie with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. The 21st century brought her back into 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.
The songs of Dottie Rambo have proven staying power. Through good times and bad, triumph and trial, they are there to console, uplift and sometimes just make you laugh. Her songs — emanating from record, cassette and CD players — are the modern-day campfire we all gather around and feel warm. There is a belief: even if she hadn’t written one song, she still would have changed the world — this is Dottie Rambo.
“Dottie Rambo is a special and precious person. I have always loved her and her writing. I think she is one of the most incredible writers of our time...or anybody’s time.” —Dolly Parton
“It was a pleasure to record one of Dottie Rambo’s songs, I Go To The Rock for The Preacher’s Wife. It was one of my favorites. What a sweet lady and gifted songwriter.” —Whitney Houston
“Dottie has given so much to the music world, because her gift of music came with the sweetest spirit. My brother Pake, and my little sister, Susie and I would wear out the Singing Rambo’s albums. At family get-togethers we still sing those beautiful songs. Thank you, Dottie for sharing your God-given gifts with us.” —Reba McEntire
“Dottie Rambo has been in the business a long time. No matter how young or talented other artists are, she can still go out and the stage and sing with the best of them, and does.”
“Every song she writes is so powerful. Anytime I am around her, whether it is in the recording studio or just talking with her over lunch, it excites me to see how God works through her. She is constantly creating songs, stories, ideas for plays or television, books, or just motivating people around her. I feel blessed to have shared I Will Glory In The Cross with it’s writer, a very special lady, Dottie Rambo.” —Barbara Mandrell
“When I think of Dottie Rambo, I think of my favorite terry cloth robe and slippers. She’s comfortable, warm and wonderful. I admire her very much for her commitment to the truth- in her life and in her music.” —Kathie Lee Gifford
“Dottie Rambo’s name has become synonymous with some of the most gifted and anointed Christian music of our time. Her music and ministry brings us into a dimension of worship that touches the hearts and inspires us to deeper faith in our walk with the Lord.” — Paul & Jan Crouch
“Dottie Rambo has been a great inspiration to me, not only as a songwriter, but also as a faithful warrior for God, and I love her.” —Larry Gatlin
“I believe Dottie Rambo is the Deborah of our day — a prophetess, a leader and a mighty woman.” —Pat Boone
“Dottie Rambo is one of the most gifted and anointed songwriters in the history of Christian music. Who can forget the powerful lyrics and gripping message of We Shall Behold Him and Behold The Lamb.” —Pastor John Hagee
“As a young Christian, I was exposed to the writing of Dottie Rambo. I was deeply inspired then, and I still am. She has an incredible ability to communicate profound spiritual truth through simple, touching and heartfelt lyrics and melodies that appeal to the heart of the common man.” —Ray Boltz