Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was born on this date in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Having had an undeniable pioneering impact on those who popularized and expanded the genre, Tharpe was finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in the Early Influences category in 2018, calling her the “first guitar heroine” of rock ‘n’ roll.
Coinciding Women’s History Month, this week’s Saturday Stream again presents a Spotify Playlist honoring the occasion by highlighting one of the most historically important figures in rock ‘n’ roll history. This edition presents a collection of recordings of Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing live.
Tharpe moved to Chicago as an adolescent, having begun performing with her mandolin playing mother as a young child. They performed at the Fortieth Street Church where Rosetta earned her “sister” moniker and developed her talents singing gospel and playing guitar. Rosetta took the name “Tharpe” from her first husband, Thomas Thorpe, whom she married at age 19 but divorced a few years later.
Having relocated to New York City, Tharpe’s recording career began in 1938 when she made her first of many recordings for the renowned Decca Records label, including the impactful “Rock Me,” “The Lonesome Road” and “That’s All.” Around that time, Tharpe made memorable appearances in legendary New York City venues including the Cotton Club with Cab Calloway, the Apollo Theatre with Fats Waller and Lionel Hampton and at Carnegie Hall as part of the John Hammond-produced Spirituals To Swing concert revue.
Continuing to cross-over between gospel and secular music, Tharpe had success in the 1940s, performing with Lucky Millinder Orchestra, Sam Price Trio and others. Her 1944 recording of “Strange Things Happening Every Day” undoubtedly helped lay the foundation for what became popularly known as rock ‘n’ roll.
Tharpe’s electric guitar playing, despite being underappreciated at the time, has since been properly recognized for its innovation and creativeness that was integral in establishing it as the primary instrument of rock. As noted by in Tharpe’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame essay, she was doing windmills and other theatrics decades before The Who’s Pete Townshend and others followed. The Rock Hall further noted her influence on Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Ginger Baker, Bob Dylan and others, including Bonnie Raitt who stated:
“[Sister Rosetta Tharpe] blazed a trail for the rest of us women guitarists with her indomitable spirit and accomplished, engaging style. She has long been deserving of wider recognition and a place of honor in the field of music history.”
Tharpe continued recording and performing live through the 1950s and 1960s. After a series of health issues, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was 58-years-old when she died in Philadelphia in 1973. She was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Stream a Spotify Playlist featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing live below:
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