“I take great pleasure in bringing to you one of the greatest, one of the world’s greatest Gospel singers, and guitar virtuoso, the inimitable Sister Rosetta Tharpe.”
In this film footage shot in 1964 that’s the introduction the woman known as “The Godmother of Rock and Roll” is given as she pulls up in a horse drawn carriage to a make-shift stage at an abandoned railroad station in Manchester, England. Sister Rosetta proceeds to wow the crowd (and now viewers some 50 odd years later) as she belts out “Didn’t it Rain” while jamming on her electric guitar like only she could.
“Despite not being a household name today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” as described by PBS. Her voice, passion and stage presence were unparalleled, as was her skill on the newly electrified guitar, all of which is said to have “played a vital role in the conception of Rock & Roll as a genre of music,” influencing the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and countless other legends.
Born on March 20, 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to a poor mother and father, the precocious Rosetta was singing in churches where her mother preached by age 6, and captivating crowds from all over. By age 10, she was already considered an all-purpose musician (singing, dancing, guitar, piano), and over the next 9 years achieved nationwide celebrity-status on the Gospel circuit.
Through sheer determination and with enviable raw talent, the “Southern-born, Chicago-raised and New York-made” Rosetta continued to pave her own way in the male dominated music industry, while overcoming both personal and professional challenges along that way. By age 25, she had taken herself from adored Gospel Queen to one of the most popular secular musicians of her day.
Her story, rich with detail, is an extraordinary tale of being fearless and being true to yourself, and we encourage you to learn more about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, via this PBS American Masters video, which aired in February of 2013.
Now that you know the “Godmother of Rock & Roll”, you should also know “The First Lady of Bass”, legendary session musician Carol Kaye.