Thinking of rock music in the ’70s, the sound of the electric guitar starts to vibrate in your ear. In your mind, there are images of big hair and white boy bands along with rock legends such as Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd. Even Google brings ups pictures of glamorous rock bands.
Those boys, now middle-aged (or elderly!) white men, have dominated the rock scene for years. Yet, these well-known rock bands wouldn’t have reached their fame if it wasn’t for one unexpected woman. Yes, a woman.
What might surprise you is that before rock music became mainstream, it developed its roots in gospel music with one special Black woman. The birth of rock and roll didn’t start from some 30-year-old white man drinking whisky in his backyard but from a Black woman named Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, as Rosether Atkins before she reached stardom, Tharpe took on the stage name of Rosetta and kept the last name of her ex-husband. The ex-husband divorced her as her career started to take off. She was a legend in the making at the age of 6 years old. Yet for years after her death, her fame and talents would seem to be forgotten. Only those who had the honor of watching her live performances would hold onto the memory of her fame and talents. In fact, it wasn’t until 2018 that she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here’s what you need to know about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the godmother of rock and roll, and the influence she has had over the years.
Her gospel roots
“God worshiping rockstar” sounds a bit strange, yet that’s who Tharpe was. She started her career in the church singing alongside her mother and touring across the country playing with gospel bands. This cross-country experience helped to shape her unique sound, which was a mixture of both rural and urban. Her career started to take off when she played alongside the great Duke Ellington. Her stardom hit a stride when she moved to New York and later Chicago.
Even as she became more well-known, she stayed true to her gospel roots. Her dedication helped…