She influenced Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and countless others, but Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a legend in her own right. “>
In recent months, a video has gone viral depicting a robust, middle-aged woman in grainy black and white ripping one of the meanest guitar solos youve ever seen:
The woman featured is none other than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Godmother of Rock n Roll, who has one of the more enviable legacies in music. Her musical disciples and descendants reads like a whos-who of legendary 50s and 60s figures, her personal history bears the earmarks of a classic outlaw, and her music is richly powerful and evocativesoul-stirring in the truest sense of the term. What a legacy that isbut that legacy has long been obscured.
For decades, fans and critics tended to gloss over pre-1955 music as compared to the music of the late 20th century, and the fact that she was a gospel star likely places her in a certain niche in the minds of the general public. While names like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis became etched into the cultures collective consciousness, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was rarely mentioned in the same breathor even as an obvious forbearto her rock n roll offspring who would carry the genre into the mainstream.
Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was a singer, preacher, and mandolin player for the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) who encouraged little Rosetta to play and sing for services. A clear prodigy, it was through her association with COGIC that Rosetta would evolve into one of the most amazing gospel performers of her time. It was a church that believed in musical expression and was progressive in its view of gender roles within the church, encouraging women ministers and musicians. After moving to Chicago, little Rosetta and her mother became fixtures within the citys gospel music scene.
At 19 years old, she would marry a minister named Thomas A. Thorpe in 1934, but the union would be short-lived. Though they divorced, Rosetta would keep his last name as her stage nameslightly altering Thorpe to Tharpe.