Sister Rosetta

close up photo of black electric guitar

Rosetta’s fingers blazed over the fingerboard, twanged the strings with a fire never before seen. She infused a plain instrument with dripping sexual tension and lightning power. Fans clamored at her feet, and her soprano voice carried through the speakers.

The lights went down at the end of the show, and Rosetta made her way backstage. On her way there, a young boy attempted to accost her in the hall. “How do you play like that?”

“Why sugar,” she said, “I practiced and did it ’cause I loved it.” She pinched his cheek. “What’s your name, honey-child?”

“Elvis Presley.”


This was written for the August 1st, 2019 Carrot Ranch Challenge, Rock Star. With “Old Town Road” causing major cultural and political waves on multiple music charts, I thought it absolutely necessary to look at another era of whitewashing in American culture.* Sister Rosetta Tharpe was, undeniably, the first major Rock Star. Influencing many future white and black rock singers, it’s astounding to me that she’s been widely forgotten by the nation as a whole.

I made up this story, as it probably didn’t actually happen, but Elvis and Rosetta did surely meet in a vinyl format when he spun the records that inspired him to kick off the “Rock Era.”

*The “Old Town Road” controversy is over whitewashing, but it’s not necessarily an example of purposeful whitewashing. I’d suggest reading the Slate article if you want a better idea of what’s going on.

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14 thoughts on “Sister Rosetta

  1. crimsonprose says:

    I thank you for that share. I’m astounded that I’d never heard of her. Her music influenced every one of my musical heroes. That YouTube video … brilliant. I’m so excited to learn about her and hear the music … takes my words away.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      When I first heard her, I was just blown away – it sounded like Rock and Roll, but I’d never known about her. The more you look into it, the more you see how viciously she’s been erased, even if that process was by accident. So yeah, I think she’s totally underappreciated.

      • crimsonprose says:

        I’ve watched various programmes that trace the influences of this or that band, this or that type of music. None of them mention her. Yet it’s not that they don’t track back so far, or don’t mention women influences. I shall sing her praises to everyone who’s interested. Let’s bring her back on track.

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        Intersectionality of race and gender is what I think probably screwed this lady’s historical context. They might mention people like Louis Armstrong as an influencer, or people like Patsy Cline, but they won’t mention Tharpe despite her obvious importance. I think her legacy is seeing a resurgence in this new era, but I do what I can!

  2. Jules says:

    I too enjoyed the video. I also enjoyed your flash.
    I wan’t in the Elvis era or any music really. But I enjoy 50’s. 60’s and 70’s music.
    I collect some Elvis stuff for a family member. I found an Elvis Lunch box at a yard sale that will be headed their way at the end of the year 🙂

  3. Charli Mills says:

    Those who own the radio stations and labels try to control the artists and what people get to listen to. I love live music in regions — to soak up the essence of a place and its people. I definitely think Sister Rosetta infused Elvis Presley through her music and I could believe a story like what you wrote. It’s good rock’n’roll myth. Whitewashing or not, it’s control. But art — music, visual, dance, stories — like language, is a living thing. You can’t control it for long. Something seeps out.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I think it’s interesting how the industry of music influences things. I’m actually excited for the more organic generation of music brought on by the internet age. And, what with the ease people can publish books, I’m excited to see where publishing of all types will go. Art’s monetization is a necessary evil, really!

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