Sister Rosetta Tharpe the godmother of rock ’n’ roll, albeit recalled of one of the top 10 musicians of the 20th century she is one of the least known. Way before Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and at a time when the guitar was linked to men and gospel music was purely religious, Sister Rosetta Tharpe managed to outplay many men with her guitar and to attract large audiences with her gospel-based lyrics, accompanied by secular-sounding music. Yet during her lifetime, she was rarely praised for her perseverance and her ability to break through any gender, musical, religious, or racial barriers. In fact, she was shunned by many members of the gospel community while the critics paid her no greater compliment than she was “almost playing like a man.”
Not much is known about Sister Rosetta’s childhood, but some researchers believe her father was a singer, as was her mother, Katie Harper, who was also a mandolin player. Tharpe was born in 1915 as Rosether Atkins, and as a child, she accompanied her evangelist mother at COGIC–Church of God in Christ–where Katie Harper preached. The church was founded by Charles Harrison Mason in 1894. Mason encouraged women to preach in the church.
When she was 19, Tharpe married a COGIC preacher, Thomas Thorpe, who accompanied Rosetta and her mother on their frequent tours. The marriage lasted barely four years, and she married several times after that, but Rosetta adapted her first husband’s name as her stage name and performed as Sister Rosetta Tharpe for the rest of her life. In 1938, when she was 23, Sister Rosetta left her husband and moved to New York City along with her mother.
After relocating to New York, Sister Rosetta recorded for the first time and all four of her songs–“That’s All,” “The Lonesome Road,” “My Man,” and “Rock Me”–were instant hits. The songs were recorded for Decca Records and backed by Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra. Those were the first gospel songs ever recorded by Decca. Tharpe established her name, and they made her one of the few gospel artists who had commercial success with their records at the time. However, the more popular she became, the less approval her music received from the gospel communities.
Her distinct style, lyrics inspired by gospel and music with a secular sound, were two things that weren’t “supposed to mix.” However, secular audiences enjoyed Tharpe’s music. On several occasions, she performed with the Jordanaires, a white singing group. In the meantime, she also signed a contract with Reminder for seven years and was managed by Mo Gayle.
Enjoy this unique lady today with this excellent album ‘Rythmn N Gospel’.