The Death of Dottie Rambo, Southern Gospel Legend

Portrait of Dottie Rambo

Paul Natkin / Getty Images 

Southern Gospel legend Dottie Rambo died on Mother's Day Sunday, May 11, 2008 when her tour bus ran off the highway and struck an embankment in Missouri. Dottie was on her way to North Richland Hills, Texas to perform a Mother's Day show with Lulu Roman & Naomi Sego. Dottie was 74 at the time of her death and had spent 62 years of her life writing music and singing about her Savior.

Seven other people on the bus, including her manager Larry Ferguson and his wife and two children, were injured in the accident. They were hospitalized in Springfield, Missouri with moderate to severe injuries, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Representatives from her recording label confirmed that Dottie was asleep at the time of the accident.

The Early Years of Dottie Rambo

Dottie Rambo, born Joyce Reba Lutrell in Madison, Kentucky on March 2, 1934, started writing songs at the age of 8 while sitting by a creek near her family home. By age 10 she was playing guitar and singing on local country radio. Her father dreamed of the day that young Dottie would become a singer on Nashville's WSM Grand Ole Opry. When Dottie gave her life to Christ at the age of 12, changing her path from ​country music to gospel, her father did not agree with the decision, fearing that she would spend her life singing in backwood churches for little or no pay. He gave her an ultimatum; either stop the Christian singing or leave his house. Dottie chose the path that Christ had laid in front of her and was taken to the bus stop by her mother with all of her belongings in a cardboard suitcase and her name and address on a tag around her neck in case she got lost.​​

By the 1950s she had married Buck Rambo and had her daughter, Reba. Dottie and Buck traveled across the region singing her songs in small churches. Other gospel groups, like the Happy Goodman Family, heard her songs and started singing them. The then-governor of Louisiana, Jimmy Davis, heard her music and flew her and her family to the governor's mansion so that she could sing her songs for him. Governor Davis paid Dottie to publish her songs and soon after, Warner Brothers Records signed Dottie and her group, The Gospel Echoes, to a two-record deal. When they wanted Dottie and her group to move to folk and start singing Rhythm and Blues, Dottie declined.

It was, of course, the right decision for Dottie. Her 1968 album, The Soul Of Me won a Grammy for best Gospel Album. Billboard magazine called her "Trendsetter of the year" because of singing with an all-Black choir. Her songs started being recorded by artists like Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Whitney Houston, Barbara Mandrell, Bill Monroe, the Oak Ridge Boys, Sandi Patty, Elvis Presley, Dottie West and countless others.

In 1989 Dottie ruptured a disc in her back that caused her vertebrae to calcify to her spinal cord. The injury would have ended most careers, but not Dottie Rambo. Even while having and recovering from a dozen back surgeries, she continued to sing.

Awards and Accolades

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. In 2004, the title track from her 71st album, Stand By The River, recorded with Country Music Icon Dolly Parton, was nominated for CCMA song of the year and duet of the year, Dove nominated for Country Recorded Song Of The Year, and Gospel Fan Awards nominated for Duo Of The Year and Song Of The Year.

All in all, Dottie Rambo has had more than 2,500 published songs. She has been honored with several awards, including:

  • Induction into the Atlanta Country Music Hall Of Fame
  • Christian Country Music Association
    1994 Songwriter Of The Century Award
  • 2002 Living Legend Award
  • 2004 Songwriter Of The Year
  • 2004 Pioneer Of The Year
  • Diamond Awards 2005 Songwriter Of The Year
  • Induction into the GMA Dove Gospel Music Hall of Fame, 1991
  • Induction into the GMA Dove Gospel Music Hall Of Fame for her group, The Rambos, 2001
  • GMA Dove Awards for
    Songwriter of the Year, 1981
  • Song of the Year, 1982
  • Traditional Gospel Recorded Song Of The Year, 1998
  • Inducted into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, 2007
  • Inducted into the North American Country Music Association International Hall Of Fame, 2004
  • Inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall Of Fame, 2006

Gone But Not Forgotten

In regards to her passing, Mr. Gene Higgins, President of the Christian Country Music Awards, said, "Dottie Rambo has been an influence in Christian music for five decades. Even though Dottie was called home, her legacy will go on. Her songs will continue to minister until Jesus returns. As President of the Christian Country Music Association, it was my privilege to know Dottie and in 1994 to present her with the Songwriter of the Century Award. The CCMA also presented her with the Pioneer Award, Living Legend Award, and Songwriter of the Year in 2004. Dottie Rambo was to Gospel music what Loretta Lynn is to country music. Both are the queens of their era and their genre of music. One of my favorite Dottie Rambo songs is "The Holy Hills of Heaven Call Me." She now can see and stand on those hills. May God be with all of us and her family in the days ahead. We miss you, Dottie. Now our prayers and concerns must turn to the others that were injured in the accident. Larry Ferguson is a dear friend of ours and our prayers are with him and his family at this time."

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Jones, Kim. "The Death of Dottie Rambo, Southern Gospel Legend." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Jones, Kim. (2023, April 5). The Death of Dottie Rambo, Southern Gospel Legend. Retrieved from Jones, Kim. "The Death of Dottie Rambo, Southern Gospel Legend." Learn Religions. (accessed May 30, 2023).