Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Up Above My Head

Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was a pioneering Gospel singer, songwriter and recording artist who attained great popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with a unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and early rock accompaniment. She became the first great recording star of Gospel music in the late 1930s and also became known as the "original soul sister" of recorded music.

Willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing her inspirational music of 'light' in the 'darkness' of the nightclubs and concert halls with big bands behind her, her witty, idiosyncratic style also left a lasting mark on more conventional gospel artists, such as Ira Tucker, Sr., of the Dixie Hummingbirds. While she offended some conservative churchgoers with her forays into the world of pop music, she never left gospel music.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she began performing at age four, billed as "Little Rosetta Nubin, the singing and guitar playing miracle", accompanying her mother, Church of God in Christ (COGIC) evangelist Katie Bell Nubin, who played mandolin and preached at tent revivals throughout the South. Exposed to both blues and jazz both in the South and after her family moved to Chicago in the late 1920s, she played blues and jazz in private, while performing gospel music in public settings. Her unique style reflected those secular influences: she bent notes the way that jazz artists did and picked guitar like Memphis Minnie.

A number of musicians, ranging from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin, have identified her—or, more particularly, her singing, guitar playing and showmanship—as an important influence on them. Little Richard referred to the stomping, shouting Gospel music legend as his favorite singer when he was a child. In 1945, she heard Richard sing prior to her concert at the Macon City Auditorium and later invited him on stage to sing with her. Following the show, she paid him for his performance. Johnny Cash's daughter Rosanne similarly stated in an interview with Larry King that Tharpe was her father's favorite singer.

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