March 20, 2011

Sunday Sermon: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Once you've been hit by Sister Rosetta Tharpe's roof-raising voice and barbed-wire guitar playing, the question becomes inevitable: "Was the King of Rock 'n Roll a woman?"

Tharpe was born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Her father was a preacher and her mother played guitar -- and she straddled the line between sacred and secular music all her life (much to the consternation of her churchgoing fans).

In the late 1930s, her gospel sides made her a star, and Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and many others* cited her as an essential influence on their singing, playing, and showmanship. When Jimi Hendrix was asked what made him want to play guitar, he said, "Man, I just wanted to play like Sister."

* - With a lineup like that, her style has seeped into everyone in popular music to some degree.

Here is Tharpe's recording of "This Train" from 1939 and two video clips from the early 1940s when she was the vocalist for Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra. But the truly great stuff comes years later, when she strapped on a guitar:

"Up Above My Head"
With the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Choir (recorded during the 1960s).
Check out the nasty, snarling solo that starts at 1:25.

"Didn't It Rain"
Filmed in May 1964 at the unused Chorlton (or maybe the Alexandra Road) station in Manchester, England, for a TV show called "Gospel and Blues Train".
Now that's an entrance!

"Trouble In Mind"
"Pretty good for a woman, ain't it?"

Bonus: Muddy Waters from the same recording date!

And for something completely different, would you like to hear Van Halen's "Eruption" played on an electric violin baseball bat? Of course you do.


Conor Duffy said...

That's some good stuff, especially the baseball bat violin :)

laura k said...

Thanks for this! Great stuff, and I do not mean the baseball bat violin.

Michael Holloway said...

Sunday go to meet'n time Never been so fine!

Scott said...

That amazing rendition of "Didn't It Rain" at the Manchester train station in '64 is available here: