Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” left an indelible mark on the music industry. Her unique blend of gospel, blues, and rock sounds not only enthralled audiences but also influenced generations of musicians. Born Rosetta Nubin in 1915, her life and career were a testament to the transformative power of music.

In this article, we will delve into the life of this legendary artist, from her early days and rise to fame to the controversies that surrounded her. We will explore her best songs, her untimely passing, and the enduring impact of her music on the world.

Early Days – Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s early life was steeped in the rich traditions of gospel music. Growing up in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she was born into a deeply religious family. Her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was not only a devout Christian but also a talented musician, playing the mandolin and singing with fervor. It was within the walls of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) that young Rosetta’s musical journey began to take shape.

From a very young age, it was evident that Rosetta possessed an extraordinary gift. Her mother recognized her daughter’s talent and encouraged her to sing in church. Rosetta’s angelic voice filled the congregation, moving listeners and leaving an indelible impression on those who heard her sing.

As a child, Rosetta would often accompany her mother during church services, singing gospel hymns with a depth of emotion and sincerity that belied her tender age. Her mother’s preaching and musical prowess served as a profound influence on young Rosetta, shaping her understanding of the spiritual and artistic dimensions of music.

Rosetta’s introduction to the guitar was serendipitous. Legend has it that, at the age of four, she picked up a discarded guitar at a church event and began to strum it with such natural talent that it left onlookers in awe.

This instrument would become an extension of herself, a means to convey her deepest feelings and spiritual experiences.

By the time she was a teenager, Rosetta’s reputation as a prodigious gospel musician had spread beyond the walls of her church. Her remarkable voice and guitar skills led to invitations to perform at various religious gatherings and revivals across the South. It was during these formative years that she refined her unique style, blending the gospel’s spiritual intensity with the emotional nuances of the blues.

In her early teens, Rosetta embarked on a tour of gospel performances alongside her mother.

These tours provided invaluable experience and allowed her to hone her craft further.

They also exposed her to a broader range of musical influences, as gospel music was evolving, incorporating elements of blues and jazz that would later inform her distinctive sound.

Rise to Fame

Rosetta’s exceptional talent didn’t remain confined to the church for long. At the tender age of 6, she embarked on her journey as a professional musician, touring the gospel circuit with her mother. In the 1930s, she moved to Chicago, where she began recording music for Decca Records. It was in the bustling atmosphere of Chicago that she would make her mark.

Tharpe’s music transcended traditional gospel boundaries. Her fervent, emotional performances combined with her masterful guitar playing made her a sensation. Her 1938 recording of “Rock Me” is often considered one of the earliest examples of gospel music incorporating elements of rock and roll. This fusion of gospel and secular music set her apart and laid the foundation for her future success.


Despite her undeniable talent and popularity, Sister Rosetta Tharpe faced controversy during her career. One significant source of controversy was her personal life. In 1934, at the age of 19, she married a fellow COGIC preacher named Thomas Thorpe. The marriage was tumultuous, and they eventually divorced in 1943. She would later change the spelling of her last name to “Tharpe” to reflect this period of her life.

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Additionally, her decision to perform both gospel and secular music raised eyebrows within the religious community. Some criticized her for straying from the strictly religious path, but Tharpe defended her choice by explaining that she aimed to bring the message of God to a wider audience through her music.

Best Songs

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s catalog includes numerous memorable songs that have left an enduring legacy. Here are a few of her best-known tracks:

  1. “This Train” – This gospel classic showcases Tharpe’s powerful voice and infectious energy. It remains one of her most celebrated songs.
  2. “Strange Things Happening Every Day” – Released in 1944, this song is often cited as one of the earliest examples of gospel music with a rock and roll feel.
  3. “Up Above My Head” – This uplifting gospel song features Tharpe’s signature guitar work and soul-stirring vocals.
  4. “Didn’t It Rain” – A spirited gospel tune that highlights Tharpe’s ability to captivate her audience with both her voice and guitar.
  5. “Rock Me” – As mentioned earlier, this song is a pivotal moment in the history of music, blending gospel with the emerging sound of rock and roll.

When Did She Die?

Tragically, Sister Rosetta Tharpe passed away on October 9, 1973, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was 58 years old at the time of her death. Her contributions to music had already left an indelible mark, and her influence would continue to shape the world of rock and roll and gospel for years to come.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s life and career were marked by innovation, controversy, and unwavering dedication to her music. Her early days in the church, rise to fame, and the controversies that surrounded her paint a vivid picture of an artist who defied convention to make her mark on the world. Her best songs continue to inspire and move listeners, and her legacy lives on in the music of countless artists who have followed in her footsteps.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s impact on the music industry cannot be overstated. Her pioneering spirit, powerful voice, and groundbreaking guitar work helped lay the foundation for the rock and roll revolution that would follow. Though she may have faced controversy during her lifetime, her enduring influence is a testament to the enduring power of her music. The “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll” will forever hold a special place in the annals of music history, reminding us of the transformative power of art and the ability of one individual to change the world through their passion and talent.