“Sister” Rosetta Tharp, prominent black guitarist who invented rock and roll.


Obviously, Rock’n’roll did not arise spontaneously. It was the result of the evolution and combination of several musical genres, and in this birth a woman, unknown to many, played a defining role. While mere mortals associate rock and roll with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Little Richard, these pioneers were still going to school and some were still wearing diapers when Sister Rosetta Tharp sowed seeds of this kind. No one took a firm step in the world of music when this black woman with gospel roots made history with an instrument meant for men.

It was recorded on October 31, 1938, at an inauspicious time for success. Spain was at the epicenter of the Civil War, oblivious to new rhythms, and Europe was seething before the world war, which almost put its paw out the door. But in the United States, the innate musical talent spread throughout the major states, attracting more and more audiences. This song “Rock Me” It is considered the first ever rock and roll recording. But let’s start from the very beginning.

Sister Rosetta Tharp in 1938.

Rosetta Nubin was born in Arkansas in 1915. At the age of four, she accompanied her parents to an evangelical church, where she learned to sing and play the guitar. They said it “Little Miracle of Music”. At twenty, she moved to Chicago, the city that played a key role in her career as an advocate for the gospel and blues avant-garde, styles that Rosetta gradually combined to create her own unique style. Her wedding to the pastor was attended by hundreds of people. Thomas Thorpe hear her sing.

Despite the divorce, he kept the surname as his stage name, changing it to “a”: Tharp. He settled in New York, and his success grew like foam. He signed with Decca Records and began playing at the Cotton Club with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra. Thus came the aforementioned “Rock Me”, the first of his hits. In 1945, he entered the Billboard magazine list with “Strange Things Happening Every Day”, the first gospel single in which he mutated into rhythm and blues.

Although his guitar skills allowed him to explore other rhythms, his mainstay was still gospel music, by day in churches and by night in blues clubs. This angered many. Some were outraged that he removed religious music from temples, while others did not like that the divine entered the secular environment. But Rosetta continued to shape her style, ignoring everyone.

The decade of the 40s was very eventful, filled with performances all over the country. They traveled in a sleeping bus, as racial laws prevented them from sleeping in many hotels. Music critics said that his guitar prowess was, and be careful, “like a man.”

She always had the audacity to answer that she did not play like a man, because no man played like her. During these years created a couple with the singer Marie Knightmusically and emotionally. Songs such as “Up Above My Head” were born from this relationship.

The couple’s love break led to a professional separation. In 1951, Sister Rosetta Tharp married. Russell Morrison, his spokesman and his wedding – a set-up for many – was a great marketing strategy. Up to twenty thousand people paid to visit the link and see her perform. However, as that decade wore on, his popularity waned in parallel with the rise of new rock and roll figures.

Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis praised his amazing guitar skills and charismatic voice. They never made a secret of their admiration for the talented black woman who laid the foundation for one of the most influential genres of the 20th century. “Oh, those kids and rock ‘n’ roll… it’s just uptempo rhythm and blues. I do this all the time,” said Sister Rosetta Tharp, according to Gail Wald’s signed biography.

Johnny Cash said that this is his favorite singer. Little Richard admitted that it was “the biggest influence on him”. Chuck Berry assured that his entire career was nothing more than “a long memory of Rosetta Tharp.” Bob Dylan stated that she “was anything but ordinary and ugly”. “She was a great, beautiful and divine woman, not to mention that she was sublime and magnificent,” he added. So why is Rosetta almost unknown?

early death

In 1964 he went on a successful tour of Europe.

In the 1970s, he fell ill while performing with Muddy Watters and returned to the United States. His diabetes worsened and had a leg amputation. However, he did not completely leave the stage. His popularity was low and he had financial problems. On October 9, 1973, he died in Philadelphia at the age of 58 from a heart attack. Few people came to her funeral, and she was buried in a grave without a tombstone.

His figure has been in demand for many years, and in 2008 funds were raised to purchase a tombstone based on his imprint. In it you can read: “She sang until you cried, and then she sang until you danced for joy”. Sister Rosetta Tharp was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2018 on her own initiative, without the need to save female figures that fit the quota. He took the guitar to a new level and gave us one of the most danceable and popular rhythms of the last century. Hence our obligatory tribute on the anniversary of his death.



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