Sister Rosetta – Rock & Roll Architect

Such a mighty presence, a powerful singer and electrifying guitarist, with her triple-pickup solid body Gibson – so why isn’t Sister Rosetta Tharpe mentioned as a rock & roll pioneer in the same breath as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley?  Elvis, in fact, would be directly influenced by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as Gayle Wald points out in the PBS documentary, Sister Rosetta Tharpe:  The Godmother of Rock & Roll.   Ray Charles dared to fuse gospel music with secular content – and yet Sister Rosetta would beat him to the punch (although many seem to be unaware).  Firing off notes on her modernist polar white Gibson Les Paul Custom with gold hardware, she was Bo Diddley before there was Bo Diddley.  Jim Dickinson hit it right on the head in Gibson Guitars’ profile of Sister Rosetta Tharpe when he observed, “A female gospel singer playing electric guitar in a spangled evening dress was pretty unique in 1955.”

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Years ago I threw Al Hirt’s breezy interpretation of “Up Above My Head” on a compilation, completely oblivious to the fact the song had originally been written by Sister Rosetta.  How fascinating, and amusing, to discover that Tharpe’s rocking guitar lines would inspire Nick Didkovsky — founding member of grindcore band, Vomit Fist — to play a note-perfect rendition of Tharpe’s gospel standard, “Up Above My Head,” and then break it down note-by-note for the rest of the world to learn (and hopefully one day master themselves):

Nick Didkovsky Duets with Sister Rosetta Tharpe on “Up Above My Head”

“Up Above My Head” would be also covered by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Laurie London, The Blue Diamonds, Long John Baldry, Mickie Most, Elvis Presley, The Wood Brothers, Rance Allen, Randy Travis, and Johnny Ray & Frankie Laine, among many others.

Inspiration for Sly Stone’s 1974 wedding at Madison Square Garden?

Rosetta Tharpe - wedding album