Sister Rosetta Tharpe

From The Desk… Something in the Way They Play: Legendary Female Guitarists Part 4

Sister Rosetta Tharpe by JOtwell (click to buy)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe by JOtwell (click to buy)


Continued from

However, the real First Lady of Rock ‘n’ Roll was not yet gracing the pages of upscale musician magazines.  Rather, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was sweating it out in Pentecostal churches, as she’d been doing since the 1930s . . . only now she was most often to be seen ferociously wielding a white solid-body Gibson SG Special or a Barney Kessell Gibson double cutaway archtop.  She created a sensation on her first visit to the U.K., the first of many, with her rafter shaking vocals, high-intensity guitar shredding, and a pigeon-toed stomp and strut that let you know exactly where she was feelin’ the groove.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she had become a huge celebrity in the black gospel world in the early ‘30s and as her career progressed she became irresistible to secular audiences world-wide with her potent rhythmic drive, still acoustic at that point, and that stone-cold soulful voice. Once she got her hands on an electric guitar all bets were off.  Her electric guitar playing set the template for rock ‘n’ roll guitar as surely as Professor Longhair did for rock ‘n’ roll piano and Earl Palmer did for rock ‘n’ roll drums. That big . . . That important.

(During the time that I was fortunate enough to play piano with Chuck Berry, and get at least a little close to this most enigmatic of men, I asked him who his own biggest influence had been. “The Sistah, young man, the Sistah,” was his reply.)

Sister Rosetta never felt that she’d left the church, and she continued to contribute award winning music year after year. Her influence on black gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and soul music is immeasurable.

Unquestionably the original Soul Sister!


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