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Sister Rosetta Tharpe biography

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Born: March 20, 1921, Cotton Plant, Arkansas

Died: October 9, 1973, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sister Rosetta Tharpe mastered the guitar by the age of 6, and grew up singing gospel with her mother. Tharpe was a riveting performer with a flair for showmanship and a definite blues influence in her phrasing and musicianship. She signed a recording contract with Decca while still a teenager and her recordings were huge hits. Tharpe’s talent and appeal were so outrageous and contagious that it was inevitable her talents would one day extend beyond the gospel community. Her later career embodied the early, ongoing battle between sacred music and a more secular sound — a struggle that many black artists from the gospel tradition have had to face. Eventually Tharpe caused great controversy in the gospel community and lost much of her loyal audience when she recorded pure blues in the early 1950s (along with gospel artist Madame Marie Knight). It took about a decade before Tharpe made her way back to acceptance from the gospel community. She continued to tour until her death in 1973.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe on Record

Essential listening: “Rock Me,” “This Train,” “Down by the Riverside,” “Didn’t it Rain,” “Up Above My Head”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe