Friday Hoyden: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

“Queen of the gospel and the mother of rock and roll”

The person who brought the electric guitar to the popular masses wasn’t Chuck Berry, and it sure wasn’t Bill Haley. It was a woman from Arkansas who saw her mission as bringing the music of the light into the dark places (nightclubs), and consequently invented crossover pop gospel. Since it’s North American Black History Month, there is no better time to acquaint ourselves with the awesome guitar licks and joyful belting voice of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

B&W of large black woman in fluffy 1960s coat playing a white electric guitar.

On the train platform for the Manchester “Blues and Gospel Train” concert, 1964

It is so hard to choose which clips to put up here there are so many amazing performances to choose from. This is a woman who was already a star in the 1930s and still couldn’t be matched in the 60s.

No video on this one, but the chance to hear a call-and-response number with fellow gospel singer Marie Knight.

In 1964 she toured to the UK, where Manchester was becoming the R&B capital, and played an extraordinary concert that was broadcast by Granada television, to an audience of around ten million. Performed on the platform of an abandoned railway station, the concert was promoted as the “Blues and Gospel Train”. There is a great story about how she came to open with the number “Didn’t It Rain”, when the English weather did what it could to foil the producer’s attempt to make the stage look like Mississippi.

Performing live less often after a stroke in 1970, but still recording, she died in 1973.

This BBC documentary can be watched on Youtube in 4 parts.

There is a great song called “Sister Rosetta” written and sung by Aussie Jess Green (so we have a bonus Friday Hoyden in her). Unfortunately I can’t find a Youtube version to link so you can hear it, but it’s a rockin’ number that tells the whole story, so if you want to buy it you can download the track from the album Just So by Jim Conway’s Big Wheel.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, history, religion

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3 replies

  1. What a wonderful choice for a featured hoyden – such a huge joyful smile, so talented and so stylish.

  2. I know! The Manchester gig is my favourite: the combo of that magnificent coat and the heels, all perfectly turned out like your grandma going to church, and then the guitar. She’s awesome.

  3. oh, fabulous!
    I also love that look 🙂

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