The Godmother of Rock and Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe might not be the first name that comes to mind when listing rock and roll legends, but there are few that compare to her achievements in the genre. A true icon of gospel music and electric guitar, Tharpe is not only considered “the First Soul Sister” but has more than earned the title “the Godmother of Rock and Roll.” In honour of International Women’s Day, we explore her legacy and how she became a worldwide phenomenon.
Long before developing her talent for rock, Sister Rosetta was fundamental in the popularisation of gospel music. Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, from the age of six, Sister Rosetta was recognised as a musical prodigy. She was billed as the "singing and guitar-playing miracle" while traveling the southern states of America performing with her mother and evangelist church. At 23, Sister Rosetta got her first chance to record, signing with New York’s Decca Records. Her first four tracks became chart successes, catapulting gospel music into the American mainstream and paving the way for up-and-coming gospel singers such as a young Elvis Presley.
Sister Rosetta’s recordings and performances throughout the 20th century played a major role in the formation of rock and roll. An early adopter of distorted guitar tones - now a staple for rock music – she was an innovator, combining assertive vocals and revolutionary, aggressive guitar-playing to create a new musical style. It’s no surprise that blues rock royalty Chuck Berry named Sister Rosetta’s track “That’s All” as a major influence on his own work.
Touring extensively through America and Europe and releasing over a dozen albums throughout her career, Sister Rosetta’s influence reached far and wide. Some of those audiences included a young Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, who both cited the musician as a central inspiration. Finally, in 2018, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s contribution to music was honoured with her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s influence can be heard loud and clear throughout the history of rock and roll and inspires countless artists to this day. English indie rock band Noisettes even wrote a song in her honour: “Sister Rosetta (Capture The Spirit)”. Want to hear more about Sister Rosetta? Check out our dedicated playlist to her life and work below.