Sister Rosetta

When most people think of the Blues, Rhythm and Blues and early Rock ‘n’ Roll artists who had a major influence on the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll, they tend to mention the male musicians like Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Big Joe Turner and Ike Turner. However, female musicians, like Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, Memphis Minnie, Geeshie Wiley, Koko Taylor, Big Maybelle and of course, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, are not given as much attention or only given a small role in the development. Tharpe is one of the few women who is at least mentioned often by several Rock ‘n’ Roll musicians.

As seen above, the British band, The Noisettes recorded  “Sister Rosetta” in tribute to her. Allison Krauss and Robert Plant also recorded a song in tribute to her called “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” which was written by singer Sam Phillips. Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and much more have all claimed her as an influence and most have done covers of her songs. However, one of the strange facts about Tharpe as an influence for Rock ‘n’ Roll, a genre that is called “the devil’s music” is that she was a gospel singer. Even more interesting is that, unlike other gospel singers, Tharpe straddled the line between sacred and secular. Instead of the church, she performed in nightclubs and concert halls for big bands and her singing style, guitar-playing and performing style reflected that of Blues and Jazz singers, and later contributed to the style of Rock ‘n’ Roll artists. She is a true testament to the fact that you can be influenced by anyone and anything. If you want to read more about Tharpe, I suggest “Shout, Sister, Shout” by Gayle F. Wald.

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