The ‘Godmother’ of Rock ‘n’ Roll Was a Queer Black Woman

"We don't think about the black woman behind the young white man."

by Zahara Hill, December 13, 2017

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Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe is finally being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The announcement of her induction came alongside news that legendary singer Nina Simone would also be part of the Hall of Fame’s class of 2018.

The gospel-rock singer and electric guitarist was born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Tharpe, a queer Black woman, went on to become a trailblazing icon in the rock ‘n’ roll realm, serving as inspiration for artists such as Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. Her first hit was the 1938 spiritual “Rock Me.”



During her career, Tharpe collaborated with Duke Ellington, performed at Harlem’s historical Cotton Club and recorded the first gospel song to land on the Billboard charts, “Strange Things Happening Everyday,” which, NPR reports, is considered by some to be the first rock ‘n’ roll song. She also toured and performed with her Black female lover Marie Knight in the 1940s.

One of her most renowned performances took place in 1964 when she broke out her electric guitar and began performing in the rain in England.

“I’m sure there are a lot of young English guys who picked up electric guitars after getting a look at her,” Bob Dylan once said, according to Rolling Stone.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe passed away in Philadelphia in 1973. Her rock ‘n’ roll legacy has been largely underscored until today.

She’s described by the Hall of Fame site as the “first guitar heroine of rock & roll.”





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