Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Rock N’ Roll

Meet Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a woman who invented a style of music that went onto become “Rock ’N’ Roll”. She went onto pioneer musicians like Chuck Berry & Little Richard and is widely regarded to be playing “Rock ’N’ Roll” long before anyone else could. Despite holding and being largely deserving of all these accolades, her talent, fame and influence remain largely obscure and barely any music fans knows who this woman is today. Known for being one of the originators of pop gospel and a populariser of the electric guitar, Sister Rosetta introduced musical elements like a beat and rhythm to gospel music, which later became foundational elements of Rock ’N’ Roll. ⁣

Now time for a history lesson. Most people assume that the very first Rock ’N’ Roll record to have been “Rocket 88”, which was recorded in 1951 by Ike Turner and his band. However, what everyone doesn’t seem to realize is that Sister Rosetta Tharpe had been creating Rock ’N’ Roll inspired records almost a decade before any of the ‘suggested candidates’ had produced any recordings. The reason I say this is because the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert From Spirituals To Swing has yielded some records, which I would consider to be the earliest Rock ’N’ Roll recordings of all times. Chuck Berry once said his entire career was “one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation”. On stage, she did an early version of Berry’s duckwalk, but all you need to hear is the guitar introduction to Sister Rosetta’s 1947 hit ‘The Lord Followed Me’ to recognise her influence on Chuck Berry.  Little Richard called her his greatest influence and Tharpe was the first to put him on stage, a tale Richard recounts in his autobiography. ⁣

In her later years, Tharpe’s popularity waned. However, in the late 50’s/early 60’s she experienced a revival when her early records caught fire across the Atlantic in England and she toured Europe as part of a package tour that also contained Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Bill Hailey. It was these performances that inspired the young Keith Richards and Eric Clapton to take up the guitar. ⁣

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