Sister Rosetta Tharpe
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|Sister Rosetta Tharpe|
|Birth name||Rosetta Nubin|
March 20, 1915|
Cotton Plant, Arkansas, United States
|Died||October 9, 1973
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Genres||Gospel, pop, jazz, blues, jump blues, R&B|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, electric guitar|
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist. A pioneer of 20th-century music, Tharpe attained great popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with her gospel recordings that were a mixture of spiritual lyrics and early rock and roll accompaniment. As the first recording artist to impact the music charts with spiritual recordings, Tharpe became the first superstar of gospel music and became known as "the original soul sister". She was an early influence on iconic figures such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Johnny Cash.
Willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing her music of 'light' in the 'darkness' of the nightclubs and concert halls with big bands behind her, Tharpe's witty, idiosyncratic style left a lasting mark on more conventional gospel artists, such as Ira Tucker, Sr., of the Dixie Hummingbirds. While she offended some conservative churchgoers with her forays into the world of pop music, she never left gospel music.
Tharpe's 1944 hit "Down By The Riverside" was selected for the American Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2004, with the citation stating that it captured her "spirited guitar playing" and "unique vocal style" which were an influence on early rhythm and blues performers, as well as gospel, jazz and rock artists. Tharpe has been called the Godmother of Rock n' Roll.
Childhood and early career 
She was born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, United States, to parents Katie Bell Nubin and Willis Atkins, who were cotton pickers. Little is known of her father, although it is known that he was a singer. In 1921, Bell left Atkins to become a travelling evangelist for the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
Tharpe began performing at the age of four, billed as "Little Rosetta Nubin, the singing and guitar playing miracle", accompanying her mother who played mandolin and preached at tent revivals throughout the South. Exposed to both blues and jazz both in the South and after her family moved to Chicago in the late 1920s, she played blues and jazz in private, while performing gospel music in public settings. Tharpe's style reflected those secular influences. She bent notes the way blues and jazz artists did and picked guitar like Memphis Minnie.
In 1934, Tharpe married COGIC preacher Thomas Thorpe (from which "Tharpe" is a misspelling). The marriage was not a happy one, with Thorpe being described as "a tyrant". In 1938, Tharpe left her husband and moved with her mother to New York City.
Recording career 
On October 31, 1938, at age 23, Tharpe recorded for the first time – four sides with Decca Records backed by "Lucky" Millinder's jazz orchestra. She had signed a seven-year contract with Millinder and was managed by Mo Galye. Her records caused an immediate furor: many churchgoers were shocked by the mixture of sacred and secular music, but secular audiences loved them. Appearances in John Hammond's extravaganza "From Spirituals To Swing" later that year at the Cotton Club and Café Society and with Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman made her even more popular. Songs like "This Train" and "Rock Me", which combined gospel themes with bouncy up-tempo arrangements, became hits among audiences with little previous exposure to gospel music. It has been suggested Tharpe had little choice in the material she was contracted to record with Millinder. Her nightclub performances led to her initially being ostracised by some in the gospel community, as she would sometimes be required to sing her gospel songs amid scantily clad showgirls. She played on a number of occasions with the white singing group The Jordanaires.
Tharpe continued recording during World War II, one of only two gospel artists able to record V-discs for troops overseas. Her song "Strange Things Happening Every Day", recorded in 1944 with Sammy Price, Decca's house boogie woogie pianist, showcased her virtuosity as a guitarist and her witty lyrics and delivery. It was the first gospel song to make Billboard's Harlem Hit Parade (later known as Race Records, then R&B) Top Ten—something[clarification needed] that Sister Rosetta Tharpe accomplished several more times in her career. The record has been credited by some as being the "First rock and roll record". Tharpe toured throughout the 1940s, backed by various gospel quartets, including The Dixie Hummingbirds.
After the war Decca paired her with Marie Knight, a sanctified shouter with a strong contralto and a more subdued style than Tharpe. In their hit, "Up Above My Head", Knight provided the response to Tharpe in traditional call and response format, then took the role that would have been assigned to a bass in a male quartet after Tharpe's solo. It has been reported that it was an "open secret", in show business circles that Knight and Tharpe were lovers. They toured the gospel circuit for a number of years, during which Tharpe was so popular that she attracted 25,000 paying customers to her wedding to her manager Russell Morrison (her third marriage), followed by a vocal performance, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. in 1951.
Their popularity took a sudden downturn, however, when they recorded several blues songs in the early 1950s. Knight attempted afterwards to cross over to popular music, while Tharpe remained in the church, but rebuffed by many of her former fans. In 1957, Tharpe was booked for a month-long tour of the UK by British trombonist Chris Barber.
In April – May 1964, at the height of a surge of popular interest in the blues, she toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan, alongside Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, Ranson Knowling and Little Willie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis, Cousin Joe and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Tharpe was introduced on stage and accompanied on piano by Cousin Joe Pleasant. Under the auspices of George Wein, the Caravan was stage-managed by Joe Boyd. A concert, in the rain, was recorded by Granada Television at the disused railway station at Wilbraham Road, Manchester in May 1964. The band performed on one platform while the audience were seated on the opposite platform.
Later life and death 
Tharpe's performances were curtailed by a stroke in 1970, after which she had a leg amputated as a result of complications from diabetes. She died in 1973 after another stroke, on the eve of a scheduled recording session. She was buried in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Later recognition 
A resurgence in interest in Tharpe's work has led to a biography, several NPR segments, scholarly articles and honors. The United States Postal Service issued a 32-cent commemorative stamp to honor Tharpe on July 15, 1998. In 2007, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 2008, a concert was held to raise funds for a marker for her grave and January 11 was declared Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania. A gravestone was put in place later that year and a Pennsylvania historical marker was approved for placement at her home in the Yorktown neighborhood of Philadelphia. The PBS series American Masters featured her story in the opening program of their 2013 season.
Musical influence 
A number of musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Isaac Hayes have identified her singing, guitar playing and showmanship as an important influence on them. Little Richard referred to the stomping, shouting gospel music performer as his favorite singer when he was a child. In 1945, she heard Richard sing prior to her concert at the Macon City Auditorium and later invited him on stage to sing with her. Following the show, she paid him for his performance. Johnny Cash referred to Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was a child when he gave his induction speech at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. His daughter Rosanne similarly stated in an interview with Larry King that Tharpe was her father's favorite singer. She was held in particularly high esteem by UK jazz/blues singer George Melly. Even today, artists such as Sean Michel have credited her influence with the performance of gospel songs in more secular venues.
Brixton band Alabama 3 named a track after Sister Rosetta on their debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane (1997), as well as recording a version of her song "Up Above My Head". In 2007, UK indie rock band The Noisettes released the single "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)" from their album What's the Time Mr. Wolf? Also in 2007, singers Alison Krauss and Robert Plant recorded a duet version of the song "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us", written by Sam Phillips. Phillips released her version of the song on her 2008 album, Don't Do Anything. Michelle Shocked opened her live gospel album ToHeavenURide (2007) with "Strange Things Happening Every Day", along with a tribute to Tharpe.
In 2001, the French film Amélie included a scene showing the protagonist's house-bound neighbor mesmerized by a montage of video clips which featured a performance of "Up Above My Head" by Tharpe.
- The Lonesome Road Decca 224 (1941)
- Blessed Assurance (1951)
- Wedding Ceremony Of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Russell Morrison DeccaDA-903 (1951)
- Gospel Train (1956)
- Famous Negro Spirituals and Gospel Songs (1957)
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe MGM E3821 (1959)
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe Omega OSL31 (1960)
- Gospels In Rhythm (1960)
- Live in 1960 (1960)
- The Gospel Truth with the Bally Jenkins Singers (1961)
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe Crown LP5236 (1961)
- Sister On Tour (1962)
- Live In Paris (1964)
- Live at the Hot Club de France (1966)
- Negro Gospel Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Hot Gospel Tabernacle Choir and Players (1967)
- Precious Memories Savoy 14214 (1968)
- Singing In My Soul Savoy 14224 (1969)
Chart singles 
|1945||"Strange Things Happening Every Day"||2|
|"Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air"||6|
|1949||"Silent Night (Christmas Hymn)"||6|
- Ankeny, Jason. "Sister Rosetta Tharpe". Allmusic. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Wald, Gayle, Shout, Sister, Shout! p. 42
- "The Godmother of Rock & Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe", broadcast in UK by BBC Four on 24 May 2011
- Mike Rowe (2007), presentation booklet in The American Folk Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963 – 1966 DVD, Reeling In The Years Productions, Catalogue EAN: (US) 6-02517-20588-8.
- Boyd, Joe (2007). White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s. Serpent's Tail. p. 36. ISBN 1-85242-910-0.
- Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music by W. K. McNeil
- "Sister Rosetta Tharpe". Find a Grave. Retrieved October 17, 2010.
- 2012 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers, No. 3219
- Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Proclaims Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day on January 11, 2008 to Honor the Gospel Music Legend
- Sister Rosetta’s Stone: Gospel Music Legend Memorialized after 35 Years
- "American Masters (2013 Season) – Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll". WNET TV. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- White, Charles. (2003). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. p. 17. Omnibus Press.
- Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B Singles: 1942–1995. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 440. ISBN 0-89820-115-2.
Other sources cited 
- Boyer, Horace Clarence. (1995). How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel. Elliott and Clark. ISBN 0-252-06877-7.
- Heilbut, Tony. (1997). The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times. Limelight Editions. ISBN 0-87910-034-6.
- Wald, Gayle. (September 2003). From Spirituals to Swing: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Gospel Crossover. American Quarterly, 55 (3), 387–416.
- Wald, Gayle. (2007). Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-0984-9.
- White, Charles. (2003). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. Omnibus Press. pg. 17.
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the Internet Movie Database
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll, PBS American Masters, January 9, 2013
- The Gospel of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, National Public Radio's All Things Considered radio show, includes Ross Reynolds of NPR affiliate KEXP and the Museum Experience Music Project, January 17, 2004.
- Interview with Tharpe biographer Gayle F. Wald, from WILL AM radio (an NPR and PBS affiliate), February 22, 2007.
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Etched In Stone At Last, National Public Radio's All Things Considered radio show, March 20, 2009.
- Pop Music, To The Best of Our Knowledge radio show by Wisconsin Public Radio (NPR affiliate), an episode that focused upon popular music and its influences with an interview of Gayle F. Wald about her book Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, April 1, 2007 and rebroadcast on March 24, 2008.
- Premier Guitar – Forgotten Heroes: Sister Rosetta Tharpe