Let us pay tribute to the incomparable Sister Rosetta Tharpe, born on this day 100 years ago in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Sister Rosetta is 1 of the 10 most important musicians of 20th century American music and of those 10 she’s probably the least well-known. Tharpe was a towering force in gospel and blues, playing R&B before it was R&B, rock ‘n’ roll before it was rock ‘n’ roll, and dabbled in jazz just enough to be dangerous. Her voice was a mellifluous, soaring trumpet, no doubt honed through decades of church singing, and she’s probably the unlikeliest guitar hero of all-time. That she straddled the sacred and secular worlds years before Ray Charles and Sam Cooke — and did so far more gracefully — is a story that should be more widely known. Like those men, Rosetta’s R&B and gospel songs were often indistinguishable musically, which is probably why she was such a critical building block of rock ‘n’ roll. A church elder once told her that “the devil should not be allowed to keep all this good rhythm,” and there’s no question young Rosetta took that lesson to heart.
While you may not be a huge gospel or blues fan, I think it’s scientifically impossible not to appreciate Rosetta Tharpe. Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Down By The Riverside (1963)
Sorry about the timestamps in the video, but the other versions were crap. Gotta love Rosetta’s musical chops (especially the guitar solo from 1:29-2:06), the white Gibson SG, and her absolute command of the stage. A powerhouse performance.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Strange Things Happening Everyday (1944)
My selection for first rock ‘n’ roll song. 19-freakin-44! It’s a rock ‘n’ roll rhythm, even if there aren’t rock ‘n’ roll drums, and that guitar solo clearly anticipates Chuck Berry.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Up Above My Head (solo acoustic, date unknown)
Suck it, Jimmy Page.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Didn’t It Rain (1964)
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time I take great pleasure in bringing to you one of the world’s greatest gospel singers and guitar virtuosos. The inimitable Sister Rosetta Tharpe.”
Recorded in Manchester, England, Sister Rosetta sings “Didn’t It Rain” in the actual goddamn rain because it’s Manchester, England. We actually hear thunder at 1:59. Tharpe overcomes her shit weather conditions to straight up kill it in a long, stylish overcoat and again rockin’ the SG. And that’s not even including the fact she was brought to stage in a horse-drawn carriage. Totally badass.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe – His Eye Is On the Sparrow (1960)
God bless you, Sister Rosetta. While I hope you’re resting in peace, it’d be a shame if the angels couldn’t hear you sing.