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Lady Dottie

Angela Kim

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Lady Dottie and the Diamonds
(Paul Nichols)
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Lady Dottie and The Diamonds
(mahdeeyo)


Dorothy Mae "Lady Dottie" Whitsett is the lead singer of Lady Dottie and the Diamonds, based out of San Diego, Calif. The sound is a bit of soul, blues and garage. Whitsett's background is gospel music. San Diego isn't known for blues or soul, but Lady Dottie has an intense following in the indie scene. Producer Angela Kim reports.

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Dorothy Mae Whitsett, a.k.a. Lady Dottie, didn't grow up singing the blues. The only music she knew was gospel.

Dorothy Mae Whitsett: That's one of my favorite songs. When I was a kid, gospel music was the thing I did because we went to church seven days a week. That's what my mother'd allow us to sing.

These days her music isn't gospel. It sounds like this. [music] How she got here started when she was a kid. Whitsett took care of her 12 siblings while her parents worked.

Whitsett: I did all the cooking, all the cleaning. My mother and father worked. I was the mother and father of my brothers and sisters.

Sometimes she even went to work with her mom to help make ends meet.

Whitsett: We used to pick cotton. My mother used to take us because there were so many of us. Took all of us to get the job done, make the money. I'd see the planes and think I should be on it. That's why I really - in my lifetime I knew I was gonna go somewhere.

Whitsett did leave. At 19 she took a job as a nanny in New York City. From there, she made her way to New Jersey and Atlanta -- working blue- collar jobs like housecleaning and cooking and also taking gigs singing at small clubs.

But instead of singing about Jesus, she sang about love and being wronged -- blues music had made it into her life.

She never really did hit it big. Until she wound up in San Diego. That's where she met Joe Guevara.

Whitsett: Joe, he plays piano, harp and guitar. We started about 10 years ago; he was working at a restaurant playing piano. I was the chef there, I used to come out of the kitchen and help him out when I got off. That's how it happened.

What happened is that she met Joe's band - The Diamonds - four white guys young enough to be her sons with messy hair. A bunch of hipsters who are into punk rock.

Whitsett: Punk is new for me. Mixing it up with the blues and rock and roll and gospel, all in one. It's amazing how music sounds when you're singing it. I never thought I'd be singing with a punk rock band.

Whitsett embraces the raucous. On stage she's armed with a tambourine in one hand and a mic in the other. Her energy is contagious. And somehow, even with all the noise in the background, she's manages to stay true to the blues. But how's it possible to have the blues when it's so beautiful outside, like it always is in San Diego?

Whitsett: That's the blues. [laughs] Blues is beautiful. It can go either way. You take it the way you find it.

Kim: Does blues have to be sad?

Whitsett: It's up to the person if you want to make it sad. It doesn't have to be sad at all.

After decades of singing the blues through the good times and bad, Whitsett's music career is just now starting to take off.

Whitsett: I'm 60-something years old.

And she's not planning on retiring anytime soon.

Whitsett: I'm going to sing as long as I can.

Comments

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  • By Rajani Kumaraswamy

    From New York, NY, 01/18/2009

    Great story! I might just have to pick up a Lady Dottie CD myself.

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