Friday Night with Guitar George: Rosetta Tharpe Edition


First of all, let me apologize to those of you who were expecting a Jeff Francoeur Edition of FNWGG. I was unable to think of a music business equivalent to the story. Besides, after an astonishingly frenzied and passionate two hours of tweets Monday evening, the Francouer story pretty much went away.

Instead, I bring you someone much more substantial, more impressive, more inspiring. I bring you Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

All of the recent rain we have endured reminded me of a video I stumbled on a few months ago and have been meaning to feature on FNWGG. If a Jeff Francouer sighting can elicit five thousand tweets in two hours, this video is certainly deserving of a plethora of enthusiastic Twitter responses as well. She steps out of a horse-drawn carriage, walks across a rain-drenched railroad platform, picks up a guitar and lets it rip. Pampered rock stars with high-tech equipment and carefully choreographed stage moves cannot come close to the power of this performance, and she does it while wearing a bulky coat and high heeled shoes, ladies and gentlemen. Wut??

Rosetta Tharpe sings as well as Etta James and plays as well as Buddy Holly, but she pre-dates both of them—helped inspire both of them. In fact, Tharpe also inspired Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry; if those guys are considered the early architects of rock ‘n roll, Tharpe helped draw up the blueprints. Originally a gospel singer, Rosetta was not intimidated by the imaginary line that separated the “sacred” music of gospel from the “profane” music of pop and R&B. Controversial at the time, her crossover was enormously important in preparing the way for the rock and roll pioneers.

Rosetta Tharpe’s exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an egregious omission that needs to be corrected. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way: while working on this piece I found this online petition to have her considered for induction. I immediately signed the petition (signee #626) and I encourage others to do the same.

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