Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a gospel/blues superstar in the 1940s and a huge influence on most of the rock and roll icons the world came to love in the 50s (There are stories of Elvis running home after school to listen, transfixed, to her on the radio). Cool, self-possessed, and exultant, Sister Rosetta made some of the most exhilarating music the world has ever heard and, with a graceful swagger, set the template for generations of guitar-wielding rock and roll heroes to come (all while busting up centuries of deeply-entrenched gender and color lines). She died, largely forgotten, in 1973.
For a long time Tharpe didn’t receive her due as a pioneer of American music and a progenitor of Rock and Roll, but lately that seems to have changed. The debut episode of this season’s American Masters series on PBS was devoted to her. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s next on my queue of stuff to watch. Here’s a clip of her in England in 1964:
and the full nearly one-hour episode. Watch it before it’s gone!
Watch Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll on PBS. See more from American Masters.