When you think of Rock and Roll, where does your mind go? Sister Rosetta Tharpe is likely the last person you’ll think of. Her pop gospel jazz music was a precursor for the modern age of Rock and Roll we all know and love today.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is known nowadays as the “Godmother of Rock N’ Roll” but did not receive her due credit until years after her death. Tharpe began playing guitar at the age of 4, and began performing with her mom at the age of 6. She would later be one of the first big musicians to popularize the electric guitar.
Tharpe’s career took off in 1938 in New York City, alongside her mother, when she was only 23 years old. She recorded her first album that year, and was an immediate success. The album featured her hit single “Rock Me” which was a fusion between gospel and rock music.
Later in Tharpe’s career, she eventually got to tour with her partner, Marie Knight, and together they toured as two queer black women in a relationship across the country. Tharpe broke boundaries, and challenged institutional racism and homophobia throughout her career. Tharpe is accredited for being an inspiration to many of the names that may come to mind when you think of Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many more acknowledge Tharpes influence on their musical careers.
Toward the end of her music career, she quickly began being overshadowed by the white men in the rock and roll industry, and lived out the end of her days quietly in the suburbs of Philadelphia, before dying in 1973.
Despite Tharpes strong influence on modern day Rock and Roll, her accomplishments and trailblazing spirit was not fully acknowledged until 2018, almost 45 years after she died, when she was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While she was celebrated by many in her time, she finally has been able to live on in our modern times by millions of people.