Godmother of Rock and Roll
November 23, 2019 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Rock-n-Roll was invented by a queer Black woman born in 1915 Arkansas. Your disordered hardcore punk rock was sanctioned by a kinky-haired Black girl born to two cotton pickers in the Jim Crow South. The electric guitar was first played in ways very few people could have ever imagined by a woman who wasn’t even allowed to play at music venues around the country. The Patron Saint of rock music is Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The original punk rebel from which we were all born, SRT is muva.
posted by peeedro (19 comments total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:32 PM on November 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

The original shredder.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:56 PM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

She is fantastic. I hope to expand my collection of her recordings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:58 PM on November 23, 2019

posted by away for regrooving at 12:22 AM on November 24, 2019

By the way, Prof. Maureen Mahon (at NYU) has a book coming out soon that delves into the history of black women in rock'n'roll, including substantial coverage of Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Beyond Brown Sugar: Voices of African American Women in Rock and Roll,1953-1984. Under contract at Duke University Press.
posted by LMGM at 2:34 AM on November 24, 2019 [19 favorites]

The Rolling Rosetta Stone
posted by chavenet at 2:38 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this, amazing musician.
posted by carter at 3:30 AM on November 24, 2019

She is awesome and deserves more renown and credit, and I’ve enjoyed introducing many people to her! But somehow I missed that she was queer. Her Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to mention it, only saying In 1938, she left her husband and moved with her mother to New York City. ... perhaps one of us could help fix that, using these sources?
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:04 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

she commands the audience in those videos. Wonderful!
posted by double bubble at 7:02 AM on November 24, 2019

Back when I checked out the page there was a brief mention of a rumored relationship with a singer in the same genre that she toured with for a while.
posted by Selena777 at 7:03 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the tropes of pop music criticism I always struggle with is the need to declare who the inventors of things are. Essentially, it's a way of rejecting a mythology in which artists plucked their sound from the ether via divine inspiration. Instead, you look to peel back the layers and find their influences, the earlier antecedents to their sound and to give these artists credit and appreciation... by declaring that in fact, they plucked their sound from the ether via divine inspiration. It's kicking the can down the road.

Hell yeah, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is seminal. You better recognize her. But American folk music will confound your attempts to attribute genre authorship every single time, particularly if you reach for sentiments like gospel singer actually invented punk rock.

That said, I recognize the rhetorical value of phrasing it that way, because for sure, people need to appreciate that rock n' roll and punk rock are segments in a chain of American folk music that SRT was on, and she is a link without which the chain as we know it would never have existed.

She's amazing. I have nothing but love and appreciation for her. But if you like her, don't plant the flag and call yourself done. Check out more gospel, check out more country blues. Jazz worked its way into her sound, too. Probably ragtime, too. Keep digging. Folk music goes on and on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:23 AM on November 24, 2019 [29 favorites]

She's always been one of my favorites. You have to look around for the great stuff, though. There are some tepid gospel tracks in her catalogue. But her guitar work is often sensational. "Invented" is never the right word when talking music history. But "Godmother" works for me.
posted by kozad at 8:51 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Surprised no link to this one, yet: Down By The Riverside

I first heard of her in that French movie, maybe same with you: Amélie's video for Raymond Dufayel contains a brief clip of the song J.K. Seazer linked to.
posted by Rash at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Her irresistible “Shout, Sister, Shout!” seems synechdoche for a lot of what she was all about.
posted by progosk at 2:46 PM on November 24, 2019

For people in the Seattle area, Seattle Repertory is currently showing a musical based on Sister Rosetta's life called Shout, Sister Shout!

Mr. creepygirl and I saw it last weekend and it's an entertaining show with some amazing singers, especially the woman playing Sister Rosetta.
posted by creepygirl at 6:29 PM on November 24, 2019

Wow, like others here hadn’t heard the queer aspect of her story— looks like it was acknowledged in a 2007 biography, and just makes the story that much more amazing. SRT operated fully outside the boundaries in a way many of her folk contemporaries did. The joy of listening to people shouting their joy and sorrow out loud despite a society determined to silence them is why folk drew me in in the first place - this is not just the roots of punk, but of every outsider art of the modern world.
posted by q*ben at 8:38 PM on November 24, 2019

Here's a great version of Up Above My Head featuring Marie White.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 11:44 AM on November 25, 2019

Rosetta Tharpe was touring and playing to massive audiences (to wild acclaim) at a time when she had to tour in a bus because she was not allowed in hotels.

When Beyoncé sings about "hot sauce in your bag" you can imagine going to the staff entrance of the hotel to pick up some food and taking it back to eat on the bus with your own condiments.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks to peeedro for posting this and to creepygirl for mentioning the Seattle Rep production. We just saw the show and it's fantastic.
posted by mpark at 11:46 PM on December 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

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