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Great Americans Week: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The final entrant in The Daily Music Break’s Great Americans Week is Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Tharpe is a cornerstone of modern American music who embodies the meeting of spiritual and secular music. Many of the greats, starting with Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, had one foot in the church and one on the stage. Tharpe straddled that world before they did.

sister_rosetta_tharpeI am not a music historian and don’t know if she was the first to move in both realms at once. Regardless, how effortlessly she does this is made clear when she plays as gospel song using a a modern looking electric guitar and early rock riffs.

A simple way to illustrate her importance is this: Wikipedia cites her as an influence on Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, more than 40 years after her death. She should have been in the first class.

Above is the spiritual “This Train.” One of the commenters said that the pianist is Otis Spann, which probably is correct. Below is “Didn’t it Rain” (or “Didn’t it Rain, Children”). It’s a contrived television setting. It’s bit cringe-worthy simply because playing an electric guitar while standing on a wet surface is unwise. I’m sure safety was even less of a concern back then.

The Daily Music Break previously posted “Up Above My Head.” It’s a great clip.

Tharpe, according to Biography, was born Rosetta Nubin on March 20, 1915, in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. The piece says that age four she sang and played “Jesus is on the Mainline” onstage. It’s a very important song.

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