If you don’t know Sister Rosetta Tharpe and think that Jimi Hendrix or even Chuck Berry or even Little Richard originated rock ‘n’ roll guitar playing, you better get acquainted quick, because the lightyears-ahead-of-her-time Tharpe, a gospel singer in the 1940s, is the reigning queen of the instrument and entire generations of musicians owe her a debt.
A Philadelphia gospel singer raised in the Pentecostal church, Tharpe’s self-taught guitar playing was at the forefront of her whole performance at a time when the electric guitar was considered controversial in the church. In addition to her powerful, throaty voice, Tharpe manipulated the instrument like it was an extension of her own body, playing blues solos and rhythm with an ease and confidence that a whole lot of modern artists can’t hold a candle to. She invented the windmill arm swing (Pete Townshend, you’re welcome) and played perfect bluesy solos with flying fingers, all while lifting that big, big voice to the Lord.
Oh, and the Tallest Man on Earth recently did a really lovely cover of her song “My Journey To The Sky” at the Pitchfork Music Festival, a gentle acoustic version that is quite moving in its sincerity and simplicity. His voice sounds better than ever here; I just wish the song was longer.
Now watch two killer performances by Tharpe herself:
– Caroline Klibanoff