What Every Music Fan Needs To Know About Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The Story Of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

She would sing until you cried and then
She would sing until you danced for joy

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born on March 20th 1915. She was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist. A largely unheralded, ground breaker of twentieth-century music.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was hugely influential on the Rock and Roll pioneers like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who followed her. She was later often referred to as the original soul sister and the Godmother of Rock n’ Roll.

She began singing and playing music at a very early age and moved from America’s cotton picking south to Chicago, when she was only 6 years old. Where she became a child star of the church as a gospel performer.

The British documentary The Story Of Sister Rosetta Tharpe was made for BBC Four. We include segments of it here for further information, the interviews with people who knew her and of course, the great music that was included.

When Rosetta moved to New York and crossed over to secular music she soon became a star of the famous Cotton Club. This led to a recording contract and successful tours all over the USA. Her 1944 hit Strange Things Happen Every Day has been credited by some people as the first ever Rock n Roll record and has since been covered by Michelle Shocked, Johnny Cash, Linda Gail Lewis, and Tom Jones.

Rosetta was the innovator of the Tour Bus, including beds on her bus out of necessity, because the racial segregation of the time often meant that hotels would not accommodate her and her band. She was also a free spirit in her personal life, partnering with Marie Knight both professionally and personally after two failed marriages to men. When that relationship broke down, she married in a public ceremony in front of 25,000 people at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. in 1951.

When Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s career was in the doldrums, usurped by the very Rock and Roll stars that she helped create, a trip to Great Britain revived her flagging fortunes. This led to a European tour, as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan, which also included Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, Ransom Knowling and Little Willie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis, Cousin Joe, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

After her death on October 9th 1973 wider acknowledgements of her contribution to the music of the 20th century were slow in coming. On July 15th 1998 the United States Postal Service issued a 32-cent commemorative stamp to honor her. In 2007, she was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 2008, January 11th was declared Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania, the last state in which she lived.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s presence will long be felt in all music that followed the Rock n Roll era.

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