The greatest injustice in Rock and Roll history was the erasure of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer black womxn whose musical genius is to thank for the genre itself. In his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash admitted to her being his favorite singer from childhood. She’s been cited by Little Richard as his greatest influence, and Chuck Berry, who said that his career was just “one long Rosetta Tharpe impersonation.” It should be no surprise, people often commented that she “played like a man,” to which Tharpe often replied: “Can’t no man play like me. I play better than a man.”
By the time she was thirty, she had survived two marriages and various relationships with both women and men. She toured with her partner, Marie Knight, another black artist, and later, toured the world as a solo act. She was charismatic and raw, shocking her gospel audience with her pioneering heavy distortion guitar, singing songs of religious devotion amid scantily clad showgirls. She was a true concentration of chaotic divinity that chose to put on a human body and gift the world with her promethean shreds and powerful voice.
There’s no better visual analogue for her arrival into and mastery of this reality than the video for “Didn’t It Rain” – she pulls up in style, out of seemingly nowhere, and slays riff after riff, singing her heart out.
Learn of this godmother, pray to this patron saint, and don’t let her name be washed away by the tyranny of the main stream. All praise SRT.