Sister Rosetta Tharpe
July 21, 2009 10:51 AM   Subscribe

"She was a rock star," recalls Ira Tucker Jr., who grew up watching Tharpe with his father's gospel group in the 1940s and '50s. "You know, like Beyonce today and people like that. That's what Rosetta was to us." Sister Rosetta Tharpe wasn't the first one to bring black popular music into the church. (Here's the great Arizona Dranes playing barroom honky-tonk piano on the gospel side I Shall Wear a Crown in 1927.) But her fierce stage presence and her original blend of gospel, boogie-woogie, swing and smoking hot blues guitar was a crucial forgotten influence on what we now recognize as rock and roll. (Many more recordings inside. Enjoy!)

If you're here for the electric guitar action, you'll want the Red Foley duet and the '60s TV appearances. My personal favorites are the stunning acoustic duets she recorded a decade or two earlier with the Sanctified gospel shouter Marie Knight — try "Up Above my Head" and "Daniel in the Lion's Den." But her range was incredible, everything she recorded was excellent, and comparing her late electric recordings with the earlier versions is a hoot if you're into that sort of thing.

Early success with Lucky Millinder's big band: The Lonesome Road (scantily clad dancing girls at 0:45!), Four or Five Times, Trouble in Mind

Mid-40s boogie-woogie gospel mega-hit: Strange Things Happening Every Day

With Marie Knight in the late '40s: Up Above My Head, Beams of Heaven, My Journey to the Sky, Daniel in the Lion's Den [scroll down to the 7th set]

With jubilee singers The Dependable Boys: Everybody's Going to Have a Wonderful Time Up There, My Lord's Gonna Move This Wicked Race, Down By the Riverside

Her SCANDALOUS! return to blues in the '50s: Don't Leave Me Here to Cry

Duet with country and rockabilly star Red Foley: Have a Little Talk with Jesus

Straight-up church choir gospel from the '60s: I Do, Don't You, Seeking for Me, Lily of the Valley

TV appearances from the '60s blues revival: Didn't It Rain, Trouble in Mind, Up Above My Head, Down By the Riverside

Bonus — the Harmonizing Four singing at Tharpe's stadium-concert-slash-wedding in '51: Mighty Long Way. Sadly, no video. But how rock-star is that?
posted by nebulawindphone (18 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
yeah, she was a rock star and played chuck berry's style long before chuck berry did - great stuff
posted by pyramid termite at 10:58 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Beautifully constructed post. Great stuff here. Real roots music.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is really wondeful.
posted by Pants! at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fabulous post. Thank you
posted by MinPin at 11:30 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What little I've heard of hers makes me suspect that Ms. Galas was often exposed to her music at a formative age. That's a voice that came out of nowhere and a sound that will never die.
posted by adipocere at 11:35 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

That video of Down by the Riverside truly is a distillate of joy, and (possibily as such) is referenced in "Amelie". Again, fabulous post.
posted by _dario at 11:39 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What little I've heard of hers makes me suspect that Ms. Galas was often exposed to her music at a formative age.

You know, I've tried — and failed — to appreciate Diamanda Galas before, but this makes me curious. Couldja point me towards something of hers where you hear the similarity?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2009

I love this post. You are my sunshine.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2009

Great post!

At the risk of post-jacking, Sam Phillips (singer/songwriter, married to T-Bone Burnett) wrote a song called Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us which was recently covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their album Raising Sand. I saw them perform in Toronto and it was heart-stopping.

CD Recording
Live in Toronto
posted by RockCorpse at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

YES! Modern black christian musicians sound just fine by the way, thank you. Not everybody sounds like fuckin Creed.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Awesome! here's another link on women guitar players that includes her.
posted by mareli at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2009

Totally awesome. Thank you so much for brightening up my grey Tuesday!
posted by Go Banana at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2009

Alabama 3 recently did their take on Sister Tharpe's Up Above My Head.
posted by nonliteral at 12:27 PM on July 21, 2009

This is the kind of post that makes Metafilter such a wonderful place. Thank you!
posted by lord_wolf at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2009

Sister Rosetta is my favorite of favorites. Not a wrong note in her whole career, so far as I can tell. Awesome.

I came to her music through Elvis, of whom I am a huge fan and who never stopped acknowledging her influence on him.

A great intro to her music is this budget-priced 4-disc comp.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:32 PM on July 21, 2009

A few notes:

In the movie (Le fabuleux destin d') Amélie (Poulain) Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the things the title character watches on the television.

I am pretty sure Sam Phillips and T-Bone (both of whose music I really enjoy) are no longer married fwiw.
posted by edgeways at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2009

Post = good.

Me thinking that Twyla Tharp died = bad.

The recent celebrity culling has me jaded to this.
posted by Sphinx at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2009

'My Journey To The Sky' really needs a warning attached; the first four lines or so will loop through your mind all. bloody. day. Excellent post nonetheless.
posted by variella at 5:06 PM on July 21, 2009

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