The Info List - Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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SISTER ROSETTA THARPE (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist. A pioneer of mid-20th-century music, she attained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with her gospel recordings, characterized by a unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment that was a precursor of rock and roll . She was the first great recording star of gospel music and among the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll audiences, later being referred to as "the original soul sister" and "the godmother of rock and roll". She influenced early rock-and-roll musicians, including Little Richard
Little Richard
, Johnny Cash , Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
, Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
and Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis

Willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing her music of "light" in the "darkness" of nightclubs and concert halls with big bands behind her, Tharpe pushed spiritual music into the mainstream and helped pioneer the rise of pop-gospel, beginning with her 1939 hit "This Train". Her unique music left a lasting mark on more conventional gospel artists, such as Ira Tucker, Sr., of the Dixie Hummingbirds . While she offended some conservative churchgoers with her forays into the pop world, she never left gospel music.

Tharpe's 1944 hit " Down by the Riverside " was selected for the National Recording Registry
National Recording Registry
of the U.S. Library of Congress in 2004, which noted that it "captures her spirited guitar playing and unique vocal style, demonstrating clearly her influence on early rhythm-and-blues performers" and cited her influence on "many gospel, jazz , and rock artists". ("Down by the Riverside" was recorded by Tharpe on December 2, 1948, in New York City, and issued as Decca single 48106. ) Her 1945 hit " Strange Things Happening Every Day ", recorded in late 1944, featured Tharpe's vocals and electric guitar , with Sammy Price
Sammy Price
(piano), bass and drums. It was the first gospel record to cross over , hitting no. 2 on the Billboard "race records " chart, the term then used for what later became the R">

It has been suggested Tharpe had little choice in the material she was contracted to record with Millinder. "Rosetta and Millinder were increasingly at odds in 1943, as Rosetta itched to quit the big-band circuit and renew her career as a strictly gospel act. As Roxie Moore remembers, she hadn't wanted to do light fare poking fun at old-time religion or worldly material like 'Tall Skinny Papa', but found herself bound by contractual obligations." Her nightclub performances, in which she would sometimes sing gospel songs amid scantily clad showgirls, caused her to be shunned by some in the gospel community.

During this time masculinity was directly linked to guitar skills. Tharpe defied this gender construct and instead of being praised for playing so uniquely and boldly was often offered the back handed compliment from fans and media that she merely could "play like a man", despite the fact that she could and did outplay many men of the time exemplifying her skills at guitar battles at the Apollo . She was revolutionary and disrupted the music genre with both her sex and race.

Tharpe continued recording during World War II
World War II
, one of only two gospel artists able to record V-discs for troops overseas. Her song " Strange Things Happening Every Day ", recorded in 1944 with Sammy Price , Decca's house boogie woogie pianist, showcased her virtuosity as a guitarist and her witty lyrics and delivery. It was the first gospel song to make Billboard 's Harlem
Hit Parade (later known as Race Records
Race Records
, then R&B
) Top Ten, an achievement she would accomplish several more times in her career. This 1944 record has been credited by some as being the first rock and roll record . Tharpe toured throughout the 1940s, backed by various gospel quartets, including the Dixie Hummingbirds .

In 1946 Tharpe saw Marie Knight perform at a Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
concert in New York. Tharpe recognized a special talent in Knight. Two weeks later, Tharpe showed up at Knight's doorstep, inviting her to go on the road. They toured the gospel circuit for a number of years, during which they recorded hits such as " Up Above My Head " and "Gospel Train ". Though dismissed by both artists as gossip, several in the Gospel community speculated that Knight and Tharpe maintained a romantic and sexual relationship.

Starting in 1949, their popularity took a sudden downturn. Mahalia Jackson was starting to eclipse Tharpe in popularity, and Knight harbored a desire to break free as a solo act into popular music. Furthermore, around this time, Knight lost her children and mother in a house-fire. That same year, to commemorate Tharpe's one-year anniversary of being a homeowner in Richmond, Virginia, Tharpe put on a concert at what is now the Altria Theater . Supporting her for that concert were the Twilight Singers, whom Rosetta adopted as her background singers for future concerts, renaming them "The Rosettes."

Tharpe attracted 25,000 paying customers to her wedding to her manager, Russell Morrison (her third marriage), followed by a vocal performance at Griffith Stadium
Griffith Stadium
in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
, in 1951. In 1957, Tharpe was booked for a month-long tour of the UK by British trombonist Chris Barber
Chris Barber

In April and May 1964, at the height of a surge of popular interest in the blues, she toured Europe as part of the Blues
and Gospel Caravan, alongside Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters
and Otis Spann
Otis Spann
, Ransom Knowling and Little Willie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis
, Cousin Joe , and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee . Tharpe was introduced on stage and accompanied on piano by Cousin Joe Pleasant . Under the auspices of George Wein
George Wein
, the Caravan was stage-managed by Joe Boyd . A concert, in the rain, was recorded by Granada Television
Granada Television
at the disused railway station at Wilbraham Road , Manchester
, in May 1964. The band performed on one platform while the audience was seated on the opposite platform.


Tharpe's performances were curtailed by a stroke in 1970, after which one of her legs was amputated as a result of complications from diabetes . On October 9, 1973, the eve of a scheduled recording session, she died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
as a result of another stroke. She was buried in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia.


A resurgence of interest in Tharpe's work has led to a biography, several NPR
segments, scholarly articles, and honors. The United States Postal Service issued a 32-cent commemorative stamp to honor Tharpe on July 15, 1998. In 2007, she was inducted posthumously into the Blues
Hall of Fame . In 2008, a concert was held to raise funds for a marker for her grave, and January 11 was declared Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania. A gravestone was put in place later that year, and a Pennsylvania historical marker was approved for placement at her home in the Yorktown neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2011 BBC Four aired a one-hour documentary, Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock it was Richard's first public performance outside of the church. Following the show, she paid him for his performance, which inspired him to become a performer. When Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
gave his induction speech at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, he referred to Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was a child. His daughter Rosanne Cash
Rosanne Cash
stated in an interview with Larry King
Larry King
that Tharpe was her father's favorite singer. Tharpe began recording with electric guitar in the 1940s, with "That's All", which has been cited as an influence on Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
and Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
. Other musicians, including Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
, Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis
, and Isaac Hayes , have identified her singing, guitar playing, and showmanship as an important influence on them. She was held in particularly high esteem by UK jazz/blues singer George Melly . Tina Turner
Tina Turner
credits Tharpe, along with Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
, as an early musical influence. Such diverse performers as Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf
, Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka
and Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter
have attested to the influence of Tharpe in the rhythmic energy she emanated in her performances (Carpenter's drum fills are especially reminiscent of Tharpe's "Chorlton Chug"). Later artists, such as Sean Michel , have credited her influence with the performance of gospel songs in more secular venues.

The Brixton band Alabama 3
Alabama 3
named a track after Tharpe on their debut album, Exile on Coldharbour Lane (1997) ("Sister Rosetta"), and recorded a version of her song " Up Above My Head ". In 2007, the UK indie rock band the Noisettes released the single "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit) ", from their album What's the Time Mr. Wolf? Also in 2007, Alison Krauss
Alison Krauss
and Robert Plant
Robert Plant
recorded a duet version of the song "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us", written by Sam Phillips . Phillips released her version of the song on her 2008 album, Don\'t Do Anything . Michelle Shocked
Michelle Shocked
opened her live gospel album ToHeavenURide (2007) with "Strange Things Happening Every Day", along with a tribute to Tharpe.

In 2001, the French film Amélie
included a scene showing the protagonist's house-bound neighbor mesmerized by a montage of video clips that featured a performance of "Up Above My Head" by Tharpe.

In 2014 the Canadian film Félix et Meira included about one minute of Tharpe singing "Didn't It Rain" from the video of Tharpe's 1964 concert at the Wilbraham Road railway station.

In 2016 singer Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote and recorded "Oh Rosetta" for her "The Things That We Are Made Of" album. Mary Chapin explained during touring following the cd's release that she was imagining a conversation with Sister Rosetta.



* The Lonesome Road, Decca 224 (1941) * Blessed Assurance (1951) * Wedding Ceremony of Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
and Russell Morrison, Decca DA-903 (1951) * Gospel Train (1956) * Famous Negro Spirituals and Gospel Songs (1957) * Sister Rosetta Tharpe, MGM E3821 (1959) * Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Omega OSL31 (1960) * Gospels in Rhythm (1960) * Live in 1960 (1960) * The Gospel Truth with the Sally Jenkins Singers (1961) * Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Crown LP5236 (1961) * Sister on Tour (1962) * Live in Paris (1964) * Live at the Hot Club de France (1966) * Negro Gospel Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
and the Hot Gospel Tabernacle Choir and Players (1967) * Precious Memories, Savoy 14214 (1968) * Singing
in My Soul, Savoy 14224 (1969)

Her complete works up to 1961 were issued as seven double-CD box sets by the French label Frémeaux ">US R -webkit-column-width: 30em; column-width: 30em; list-style-type: decimal;">

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