Sister Rosetta Tharpe – The Godmother Of Rock ‘N’ Roll Playlist
In honor of Black History Month, stream a playlist featuring the influential guitarist.
Each week during Black History Month, JamBase will present a playlist highlighting an influential Black guitarist. Today’s installment features The Godmother Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been cited as an inspiration by countless musicians, several of whom were inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame years before she was posthumously recognized in 2018 in the Early Influences category. Despite being a Black, woman musician in segregated America, Tharpe’s electrifying guitar playing laid the foundation of sound and style that was adopted and emulated by many of her fellow rock ‘n’ roll pioneers.
“She influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard. She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.” – Tharpe biographer Gayle Wald via NPR in 2018.
Rosetta Nubin was born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas and as a child relocated to Chicago with her mother, who had taught her daughter to play the mandolin. Rosetta earned her “sister” nickname while performing alongside her mother at the Fortieth Street Church where the youngster started playing guitar and singing. At age 19, she married Thomas Thorpe, keeping his surname after their subsequent divorce a few years later.
Tharpe’s professional career in music started at the Decca Records label in New York City in 1938. She would record dozens of songs for the revered label, among her first being “Rock Me,” “The Lonesome Road” and “That’s All.” Tharpe, who was an equally talented vocalist, throughout her career brought her signature guitar playing to gospel and secular songs alike.
Her cross-over appeal led to some success in the 1940s as Tharpe recorded and performed with Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton, Lucky Millinder Orchestra, Sam Price Trio, The Jordanaires and others. Among Tharpe’s most influential early-rock ‘n’ roll recordings was her 1944 release, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” and 1947’s “The Lord Followed Me.” In 1945, she invited Richard Penniman to perform at her concert in Macon, Georgia, marking the first public performance outside of the church for the musician who would become known as Little Richard.
“My whole career has been one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation.” – Chuck Berry
Tharpe met Marie Knight in 1946 and began a musical partnership (and a rumored romantic relationship) that produced popular recordings of “Up Above My Head,” “Didn’t It Rain” and others. After a couple of years touring their Saints & Sinners show, the two amicably split, with Knight serving as Tharpe’s maid of honor at the latter’s 1951 wedding where she married Russell Morrison at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. as 20,000 people attended the event at the baseball field.
Tharpe continued recording and performing throughout the 1950s and 1960s, gaining a prominent following in Europe. After being treated for a number of health issues including a partial leg amputation due to diabetes, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was 58-years-old when she died in Philadelphia in 1973. Among her posthumously bestowed awards include her 2018 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction, Blues Hall of Fame induction in 2008 and induction into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2021.
In 2019, Ghosts Of The Forest member, guitarist Celisse, performed with Lizzo on Saturday Night Live. For the song “Truth Hurts,” Celisse paid tribute to Tharpe by dressing like the legendary musician and playing a Gibson SG guitar, similar to the one played by Tharpe.
“[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.” – Bonnie Raitt via the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
The playlist below features 10 of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s studio recordings featuring her groundbreaking guitar playing (head here for a previously shared playlist featuring Tharpe performing live).
Included in this set are the aforementioned “Rock Me,” “The Lonesome Road, “That’s All,” “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” “The Lord Followed Me,” “Up Above My Head” and “Didn’t It Rain” along with “This Train,” “That’s All,” “So High, So Low” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (which was later performed by the Grateful Dead).