I bet you have already heard of rock’n’roll, but do you know the woman, who is considered the mother of this genre and inspired artists like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, among other rockstars? If you believe that these big names brought rock and roll to life, I bet you would never imagine that a gospel singer and black woman started all of this, and still, her name remains almost unknown.
Today we will be talking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a great woman who defied and broke so many barriers at a time that there was so much prejudice and proved that music is way beyond all the issues that can appear.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and recording artist. Using her unique skills to mix rhythm and blues, spiritual lyrics, and electric guitar, she could develop what was essential for what we know as the origins of rock and roll.
Her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was also a singer and worked as a cotton picker; She always saw great potential in Rosetta. She encouraged her to sing and play by taking her Rosetta in evangelical troupes performances they used to go to since she was a kid. That was important for her to become known and famous as a black female guitarist, which was something rare to see at that time.
After getting divorced from her husband, she decided to move to New York and started singing at a famous nightclub called Cotton Club. As the public was different, she adapted her style to sing, keeping somehow her gospel side, resulting in a boom in her career. Many people consider it the first rock and roll recording ever when she released Strange Things Happening Every Day.
Rosetta became famous, rich, and could perform alongside white singing artists, becoming one of the few gospel singers allowed to record to troops overseas.
After her mother passed away, her health deteriorated. In 1970, she had a stroke after which one of her legs had to be amputated due to diabetes complications. On October 9, 1973, she passed away as a result of another stroke.
A National Public Radio article mentioned in 2017 that: Rock and roll came to life between the church and the nightclubs in the soul of a black woman in the 1940s named Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Little Richard referred to the gospel music performer as his favorite singer when he was a child. In 1947, she heard Richard sing before her concert and later invited him to sing with her, which inspired him to become a performer. When Johnny Cash gave his speech at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, he referred to Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was younger. Songs like "That's all" are declared an influence on Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
Through her unforgettable voice and gospel swing crossover style, Tharpe influenced a generation. She was, and is, an unmatched artist.