This is a blog series about the most brilliant female guitarists you should know. And we are starting with...
Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Never heard of her? Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley had. All of them grew up listening to her and had their music influenced by the Godmother of Rock and Roll.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist, born on March 20th, 1915. She was the first great recording star of gospel music and among the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm-and-blues and rock and roll audiences. If you haven't heard her before, watch this video as a wonderful introduction:
Tharpe was a pioneer in her guitar technique, she was among the first popular recording artists to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar, presaging the rise of electric blues. She was one of the biggest black American stars during the '30s and '40s and she had a massive influence on the blues and rock generations to come.
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe was anything but ordinary and plain.” Bob Dylan
It is no surprise that by that time, guitar skills were directly linked to masculinity. And Tharpe defied this gender construct, but instead of being praised for playing so uniquely and boldly, she was often offered the backhanded compliment from fans and media that she merely could "play like a man", despite the fact that she could and did outplay many men of the time. However, this has never stopped Rosetta on shredding on her electric guitar, breaking the color line touring with white singers, and becoming one of the most essential guitarists in the history of rock and roll.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was revolutionary and disrupted the music genre with both her sex and race.