This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ‘godmother of rock ‘n’ roll’, the ‘original soul sister’. Born in 1915, the daughter of Arkansas cotton-pickers, she was playing guitar in church from the age of six. She gained fame as a gospel singer and guitarist whose ability to blend the spiritual with rhythm (as well as an uncanny gift with the electric guitar) that heralded rock ‘n’ roll. This amazing woman was to go on to influence Elvis Presley, Little Richard (whose first public performance outside a church was with her), Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash (who claimed she was his favourite singer), Aretha Franklin and even Meatloaf.
She played the Brighton Dome in January 1964 as part of the American Folk, Blues, and Gospel Caravan. A little earlier she’d played a now legendary performance at a disused railway platform in south Manchester for Granada TV. As it had started raining minutes before the outdoor show, it being Manchester after all, she’d decided at the last minute to change her opening song to ‘Didn’t It Rain’. Fantastic footage of this is here:
In the audience were Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, just to name a few of the people who were going to run with that raw electric blues sound.
Isn’t this fantastic?
And doesn’t it feel slightly naughty? The bit on the footage above where Sister Rosetta just casually slaps on the electric guitar, pulling it over her coat and starts playing… Maybe it’s just me, having been brought up by a blues and rock ‘n’ roll mad mum on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones… Anything electric guitar related belongs in the male domain, right???? I had a real frisson seeing a woman give it as good a go as the men.
I’ll be talking about Sister Rosetta tomorrow at Brighton Museum. She’s just one of the women with links to the Royal Pavilion Estate whose story I’ll be dipping into tomorrow. As part of International Women’s Day, Brighton Museum have asked me to run 2 mini versions of my Notorious Women of Brighton Walking Tour around the estate. These start at 11 and 2 and will be completely free. As is entrance to Brighton Museum for a packed day of talks and activities in celebration of International Women’s Day. As well as Sister Rosetta I’ll be talking about women who have made great strides (and shocks) in the worlds of business, theatre, medicine, and the military. And hey, it’s the Royal Pavilion Estate after all, I may throw in a couple of princesses and queens. Come and join me (but remember your snow shoes), we’ll have a lovely time! More details about the Museum event here:
See you there!