Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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Rosetta Tharpe Performing

Footage of Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing "Up Above My Head" with the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Choir sometime within the 60s 

Elvis Presley singing "Up Above my Head" 

Al Hirt performing "Up Above my Head."

His cover went to #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #84 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Music

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915- October 9, 1973) in many ways can be considered the Godmother of Rock n Roll. She is attributed for being responsible for the careers of the many of the biggest rock giants to come after her. It has been said that "if she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers" (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). In fact, on December 13, 2017, she was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence (Greene). Tharpe orginated in the Gospel genre, her claim to fame being the 1938 gospel hit, "Rock Me." She holds the honor of singing the first Gospel song to crossover on the Billboard race charts in 1945 with the her song "Strange things Happening Everyday" (Hermes). Even as a known lesbian, Tharpe remained faithful to the gospel genre, pairing her iconic electirc guitar with gospel spirituals. Her religous devotion is thought to be to blame for the waning of her career during the 60s (Hermes). Yet even having not acheived the success of some her male and white counterparts, Tharpe's music remains imperative to the rock n roll genre.

Why is Sister Rosetta Tharpe important?

As mentioned previously, Sister Rosetta paved the way for many rock legends to come. Being a black queer woman, she trasncended the boundaries of music challenging both the patriarchy and racism. In addition to influencing rock and roll artists to come, Rosetta Tharpe is attributed to the devlopment of British Blues and and as being one of the first artists to employ hevy distortion in her use of the electric guitar (Long). To this day her memory lives on through the praises of artists ranging from Bob Dylan to the Alabama Shakes (Greene; Minsker). While she is known to many music historians and rock enthusiast, Rosetta deserves broader more mainstream recognition.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe