Photo credits: Tony Evans/Getty
Soon after Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard took the stage in 2018 to induct Sister Rosetta Tharpe (pictured) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she shouted, “It’s long overdue!”
Howard then broke into a rousing rendition of Sister Rosetta’s hit song titled, “That’s All.” Despite her admittance into the Hall of Fame, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s artistry, influence, and legacy are mostly unknown to the majority of music enthusiasts today. That desperately calls for a retraction. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) is a pioneer who inspired everyone from Chuck Berry to Keith Richards. and she was the first to play rock ‘n’ roll.
Sister Rosetta added an emotionally charged dimension to rock ‘n’ roll as both the creator of “pop gospel” and one of the early popularizers of the electric guitar. Her recording and performing career, which began in the late 1930s and continued throughout the 1950s, shaped an early rock ‘n’ roll Who’s Who.
According to Discover Music, Chuck Berry allegedly remarked that his whole career was “one big Sister Rosetta Tharpe imitation.” She executed an early version of Berry’s duckwalk on stage. However, the guitar prelude to Sister Rosetta’s 1947 smash hit “The Lord Followed Me” is all you need to hear to realize Chuck’s musical debt to her.
Little Richard referred to her as his “biggest inspiration.” Tharpe was the first musician to introduce him to the stage, according to Richard’s book.
Muddy Waters and other American blues legends joined her for package tours in her latter years. This inspired a young Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and others to build the British blues scene, which converted them into the torchbearers of the mid-60s British Invasion. Rosetta’s broadcast performance on the platform of an old Manchester railway station of “Didn’t It Rain” and “Trouble In Mind” became a massive YouTube hit decades later.
May more people begin to appreciate Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s legacy; musicians of all genres owe her a debt of gratitude.