4 days ago
Carolina Music Museum ( @carolinamusicmuseum )
Hailing from the rural Mississippi Delta and growing up in Chicago, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) was a pioneering singer-songwriter and guitarist whose unique & emphatic approach to Gospel laid the foundation for Rock N’ Roll and acted as a critical source of inspiration for all who followed.
Born in the small town of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Rosetta was the only daughter of sharecroppers Katie Bell Harper & Willis Atkins. From traditional evangelist gospel taught by her mother, to the work of Arizona Dranes & Thomas A. Dorsey, music had been ingrained in Rosetta from an early age. Though Arkansas was once seen as a “promised land” to many black Americans in the decades after the Civil War, a growing population in the early 20th century led to increasing segregation and violence. Perhaps it was this emerging animosity that prompted Katie Bell Harper & Rosetta to leave for Chicago in the early 1920s.
Once in Chicago, music producers quickly recognized Rosetta’s talent on the guitar, dubbing it a “miracle.” By her later teenage years, Rosetta and Katie Bell moved to New York. With a failed marriage to Thomas Thorpe, Rosetta signed to Decca Records in 1938 and was quickly in-demand among big bands, exploring the world of jazz before returning back to her Gospel roots. Through the 1940s, Rosetta toured with both black and white male Gospel quartets, challenging racial and societal conventions. Her celebrity remained strong, and Rosetta recorded the first hit “Strange Things Happening Everyday,” in 1945. Shortly after, Rosetta began to work with Blues pianist Marie Knight - a formative professional and romantic partnership that lasted until 1951.
While her popularity in the States began to wane in the late 1950s, it grew in Great Britain. Rosetta’s performances inspired the next generation and laid a foundation for the explosion of Rock N’ Roll across the globe. From Elvis and Johnny Cash to the Rolling Stones and Chuck Barry, landmark artists of the twentieth century praised Rosetta’s influence on their work. Yet it was only in 2018 that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was formally inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame - an honor overdue by half a century!