Musicheads Essential Artist: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe
American singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing on stage with her guitar and Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Cardiff, Wales, November 1957. (Chris Ware/Getty Images)
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Musicheads Essential Artist: Sister Rosetta Tharpe
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Sister Rosetta is a pioneering and chronically underappreciated songwriter, guitar player, and singer, one of the founding architects of rock and roll.

As James Brown once sang, this is a man's world, which might help to explain why Sister Rosetta Tharpe has never been a household name in the U.S. despite weaving together elements of gospel, rhythm and blues, and electric guitar squall decades before the rest of the world would catch up and realize she was playing rock and roll.

Sister Rosetta's roots trace all the way back to the 1920s. She cut her first record at the age of 23 for Decca Records, and one of those early songs, "Rock Me," would be cited by everyone from Elvis Presley to Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis as a deeply inspiring recording.

Armed with her Gibson SG and joyful, contagious charisma, Sister Rosetta wowed audiences with her rambunctious performances and challenged the preconceptions audiences had about gospel music, helping to push it into the secular mainstream. Her songs have famously been covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and others.

Although she has been eligible every year since it was founded. It wasn't until 2018 that the Godmother of Rock and Roll was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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