History is Not Dull and I Can Prove It, Part II: Sister Rosetta Tharpe
*I’m a history buff, and I hate that history gets such a bad rap. If you place a rock next to any high school history book, it’s the rock that’s going to look vivacious and interesting. The names, dates, battles, and treaties we all learned in school are not what history is all about. History is about the people that lived it, the people that made it happen. And I’m here to prove it, one historical badass at a time.*
There is a person (a woman, I’ll have you know) that inspired artists ranging from Little Richard to Johnny Cash, and Aretha Franklin to Jerry Lee Lewis. She is called the Godmother of Rock and Roll, and yet she’s not exactly a household name these days.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Can we just admire the badassery happening in this picture, right here?
Born in 1915 in Arkansas, Rosetta Nubin became a performer in a traveling evangelical group by age six. By the late ’30s and ’40s, she was recording in studios, and mixing gospel with blues and the electric guitar.
That video gives me the feels.
And please remember that this woman was recording and playing the guitar like a mother a full decade before Elvis.
During 1942-1944, there was a recording ban in place, enacted by the American Federation of Musicians Union. She was one of only two gospel artists that recorded V-Discs (similar to V-Mail, if y’all don’t already know about that) for the troops overseas. Her 1944 recording of “Strange Things Happen Every Day” is the first gospel song to ever cross over to Billboard’s “race records” Top Ten. (Race records [how lovely] was to eventually be renamed the R&B chart.)
Though her popularity waned in later years, and she passed away from a stroke in 1973, her legacy was never forgotten. Her image was placed on a US postal stamp in 1998, and both PBS and the BBC have aired documentaries about the Godmother of Rock and Roll.