I spent nine hours on a plane yesterday and, as unpleasant an experience as it was, I came away with having watched a fantastic documentary on Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the unknown godmother of rock and roll.
Elvis Presley would rush home from school every day to listen to her on a black gospel radio show. According to a school friend of his, Elvis would never miss a show and it is likely where the energy in Tharpe’s voice undoubtedly left its mark on young Elvis.
She was Little Richard’s favorite singer when he was a child.
In his Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, Johnny Cash referred to Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was a child.
You can hear in her Memphis Minnie inspired guitar picking, that Chuck Berry found his rock and roll guitar style inspiration, not from Marty McFly.
Born in 1915, Rosetta Tharpe, ne Nubin, grew up in a small town in Arkansas where, from the age of four, she accompanied her mother playing music and preaching at tent revivals throughout the South. Her family moved to Chicago in the late 1920s where her early exposure to both blues and jazz in the South allowed her to easily fit into the secular blues and jazz night club scene, while performing gospel music in more public settings.
As a recording artist she had secular hits such as I Want a Tall Skinny Papa and gospel hits like Rock Me and This Train (sample below), but it was in 1939 when a feature article in LIFE magazine described her as “moving the saints on Sunday and entertaining the big spenders on Monday” that her true fame began.
Here is a clip from the documentary – The Godmother of Rock & Roll Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe -This Train –