I’m a big fan of gospel music, and you cannot be a fan of rock and roll, you cannot be a fan of country western music, and you can’t really be a fan of jazz without listening to a lot of music that’s religious.
The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people. It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.
Flamboyant, histrionic, magnetic, and precocious
The musical stew that nourishes the Southern soul contains many multitudes: from the blues belters of Memphis to jazz-flavored New Orleans to pure country and Western along Broadway in Nashville to euphoric black and white gospel shouts ringing out of churches from city to countryside, it is a land of various voices which over time has coalesced into one tasty , rambunctious art form.
And out of that spicy soup rose one of the uniquely talented and flamboyant human beings ever to stride across the American landscape. A true virtuoso, a dogged pioneer born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915, who blazed a path that influenced almost everyone in the` music world; from rock ‘n’ rollers like Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Buddy Holly to jazz swing bands. From the frenzied gospel shouts of church houses to speakeasys on every corner, this woman was in the vanguard. A true innovator, she blended ballsy, black spirituals with white big band jazz sprinkled with early rock ‘n’ roll.
New Member of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame
Today we’re going to shine a light on the celestial sounds of a woman unknown to too many. Today we’re to shout out the praises of a rugged apostle of rock ‘n’ roll. Ladies and genlemen, can you please put your hands together for a musical giant.
Behold! The one and only; Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Now if you’ll pardon me for a few paragraphs, we’ll run down some of the highlights of Sister’s incredible life journey.
-In the late 30s Sister played Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club with Mr. Cab Calloway.
-In 1946, she headlined the first ever gospel gig at the iconic Apollo Theater.
– In 1947, Sister Rosetta was the first person to put a 14-year-old boy named Little Richard Penniman on stage.
-In 1946, she played Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Now, get this this:
-In 1952 Rosetta records a duet in Nashville with white country music star Red Foley. “Have a Little Talk with Jesus” fades into obscurity, but the collaboration is historic.
-Sister received a beautiful tribute in 2007 by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their Grammy winning album, Raising Sand, with the haunting song; Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.
–She’s due to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.
A Lady of Influence
As a young elementary schooler Elvis Presely would rush home from school in Tupelo to listen to her and other singers on WELO’s daily half hour of black gospel. According to his school friend, Billy Welch; ” Elvis would never miss a show.”
She beat the Who’s Pete Townshend wind milling the guitar by a few decades.
She played and blended secular and spiritual music decades before anyone else.
The primal force of nature known as the “Killer,” none other than Jerry Lee Lewis, had this to say about Sister: “Say man, there’s a woman who can sing some rock and roll. I mean, she’s singing religious music, but she is singing rock and roll. She’s . . . shakin’ man . . . She jumps it. She’s hitting that guitar, playing that guitar, and she is singing. I said, ‘Whoooo. Sister Rosetta Tharpe.”
Thus spaketh the human hurricane from the Bayou state.
Saint and Sinner
Pay heed, pilgrims. Like all of us who go forth into this world, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was as full of frailties as the rest of we heathens.
She was married four times, danced like a whirlwind, and played far too many secular songs for the good Pentecostal folks.
No sir, the temptations of this old world are so great we all have to be redeemed at one point or another, and that’s what makes Sister Rosetta Tharpe such a fascinating study; she broke the mold, as Ms. Alison Krauss sang so angelically, with Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us. She carved out a path for some many to follow. Can I get an amen?
Cast out the wicked entropy that boring music brings to your soul and listen to some Sister Rosetta Tharpe calling forth the righteous forces of powerful sounds! Here’s a good sample of her finest songs: Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Turn it Up! This is Spinal Tapping Into Sister Rosetta
“Whenever a rock or gospel or rhythm and blues musician turns the amps up, we’re living in the presence of Rosetta, who made a habit of playing as loud as she could, based on the Pentecostal belief that the Lord smiled on those who made a joyful noise.”
-Gayle Wald in Shout, Sister, Shout!
One of Sister’s most significant contributions to Rock ‘n’ Roll was the “play this record LOUD” wording printed on so many records to this day.
Where did this bane of landlords and quiet souls come from? Well, naturally, the church. The Pentecostal Church, to be exact.
One can say with total honesty that the musical inspiration for most of rock ‘n’ roll, and heavy metal, can directly be attributed to the take-no prisoners, hallelujah chorus, throw-down, foot-stomping’ wailing to the heavens replete with testifying shrieks and wails of the churches which crown our cities and towns with the fervent spirit and joyous sounds that made the creation of rock ‘n’ roll possible.
So, Black, Sabbath, Meticallica, Disturbed, Coven, you owe a debt of gratitude and special thanks to spiritual pioneers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
We’ll close this sermon by asking you to turn to this timelss Youtube video featuring an interview in the guitar room of fictional British rocker, Nigel Tufnel from the movie; This Is Spinal Tap.
Nigel’s Guitar Room – Enjoy and turn it up!
All this new stuff they call rock ‘n’ roll, why, I’ve been playing that for years now . . . Ninety percent of rock-and-roll artists came out of the church, their foundation is the church.
-Sister Rosetta Tharpe in an interview with England’s Daily Mirror in 1957.