Sister Rosetta Tharpe, famous in the 1930s for her upbeat electric guitar playing style, is the original godmother of rock and roll music. She was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, and recognized for her contributions in paving the way for other artists in the industry.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was born in 1915, grew up in a small town in Arkansas. Raised in the Pentecostal church, she honed her talent in music during tent revivals and church gatherings.
In the 1930s, she started making a name when she moved to New York, where she performed in the city’s nightclubs. In 1938, she became famous for her record called “Rock Me.” Her 1945 recording “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is considered the first gospel song that bridged the “race” (later called “R&B”) charts after it reached number two.
Her fame was sustained until the 1950s when she could fill arenas with thousands of fans who want to watch her perform on stage with her electric guitar.
By the 1960s, a new generation of musicians seemed to have overshadowed her fame. Still, she went to Europe to perform for new audiences in London and Liverpool.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe died in 1973 at the age of 58. Even though her name was somehow forgotten by most people, her influence is very much alive.
“She influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard,” says Tharpe’s biographer Gayle Wald. “She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.”
She was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame on May 5, 2018 for her essential role in the industry.
“Without Sister Rosetta Tharpe, rock and roll would be a different music,” according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website. “She is the founding mother who gave rock’s founding fathers the idea.”