The Godmother of Rock & Roll
Written by Ric Chetter on October 15, 2015
If it is one thing we all like around here, it’s a little bit of history. It’s a chance for us to remember our roots. A chance to spend a brief moment or two with the ghosts of the past and relive some precious moments.
Here’s one we have all fallen in love with. This Halloween, 77 years ago, Rosetta Tharpe went into Decca Records and recorded four songs. They would happen to be the first gospel recordings Decca ever did. She was an “overnight success”. By the end of the year, she would play Carnegie Hall.
Rosetta became famous for performing gospel music in front of secular artists alongside blues and jazz acts of the day. But, it was frowned upon for women to play guitar. As a result, her popularity took a down turn. Even in her own gospel community, it was not considered “correct” for a woman to play a guitar on stage. Much less an electric guitar.
Be that as it may, her applying standard gospel songs to a bouncy upbeat rhythm ultimately became poplar with fans who would normally not be exposed to the genre.
To make up for some of the lost bookings, she found herself playing the nightclub circuit. However, since she was under a contract to stick to gospel music, she would be playing gospel music in such venues along side scantily clad showgirls. The audiences didn’t care. As a side note here, she did on occasion perform with The Jordanaires.
She rightfully earned the name, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother of Rock & Roll
In April and May of 1964, Rosetta Tharpe played in the Blues and Gospel Caravan in The United Kingdom alongside Muddy Waters, Joe Spann and others right when the popularity of both blues and gospel were hitting its high marks there. A performance was recorded by Granada Television at an unused train station (in the rain) in May of 1964. Here’s one of the songs.
On the eve of a recording session in Philadelphia, PA, Sister Rosetta Tharpe suffered a fatal stroke on October 9, 1973.
In 2007 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame here in Memphis, TN and her memory lives on as does her music.