Gospel singer Dottie Peoples — one of the most sincere and distinguished modern gospel artists of the last two decades — is an inspiring figure in American Southern music.

“I always tell the audience to show love for each other because there’s so much going on in the world today,” she says, speaking from her home in Atlanta. “There’s still a lot of heartaches and pain with the war. It’s all in God’s hands. Standing up before people, I realize that they want something from me. They need a word of comfort to tell them it’s going to be all right. I don’t do a lot of talking on stage, because people came out to hear me sing [laughs], but I try to minister the songs to encourage people to give someone a hug and pray for our country and for each other. Some people just look like they’re so glad to get a hug from somebody.”

Peoples was born in Dayton, Ohio, and began singing at an early age. After high school, she was given the opportunity to tour with gospel pioneer Dorothy Norwood, a member of The Caravans. As a young adult, she worked regular day jobs, singing on the side and in church choirs for fun. In 1979, she relocated from Ohio to Atlanta, Ga., where she joined the Salem Baptist Church, home to renowned orator, the Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.

She made her official musical debut in 1984 with the release of Surely God is Able, followed by Is It Worth It All — both for the Atlanta-based record label, Church Door Records. Her deep vibrato and wide range was comparable to those of Mahalia Jackson and Shirley Caesar.

Within two years, she was well on her way to becoming a household name in the gospel field, as her next studio album On Time God won four Stellar Awards.

In recent years, Peoples expanded her sound, adding a rousing blend of musical styles. Much of her recent recorded material is a mix of familiar American music — from vintage blues and soul to modern pop and R&B.

“I love all music,” says Peoples. “I’ve sung with the Philharmonic orchestra here in Atlanta, which sounded so beautiful it almost made me cry … and with Widespread Panic at Philips Arena and at Bonnaroo, and they were so tight and professional. Any experience like that goes a long way. The more you get out and stand before audiences who expect something great, the better you get.”

These days, fan favorites include the swingin’ “He’s An On-Time God,” the mid-tempo “Closet Religion,” the slower, stompin “Let Jesus Lead You,” off of The Water I Give album. Her songs are of hope, blessings, uplifting life experiences. Other popular songs include “Testify,” “Pure Love,” “It’s So Hard to Get Along,” “God Can,” “He Is Concerned,” and “What Kind of Love Is This.”

Her current backing quartet features longtime musical director Sterling Holliman on guitar, along with James Best on keyboards, Joseph Adams on drums, and Shawn Mixon on bass. “These guys have been with me so long that they feed off what I say or do and move with it. They’ll follow my shoulder, head, or hand movements and be like, ‘Bam-bam!’ Right there. It’s just like a husband and wife thing, you know? It’s a young band, so they keep me popping. On stage, we’re traditional and I’m contemporary … I’m a little bit of everything.” —T. Ballard Lesemann