Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Live in 1960
When Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s name was recently announced as a first-time nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, reactions went two ways: “Who?” and “It’s about damn time.” To answer the first question, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73) was a gospel singer who achieved considerable fame by singing her heart out and playing some meanass electric guitar at a time when women—especially gospel-singing women—just didn’t do that sort of thing. To respond to the second point, Tharpe should have been inducted as an early influence way back in the Hall’s infancy. Her impact on blues, R&B and rock artists—among them Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Tina Turner— has been firmly documented. This 1960 set, released on vinyl for the first time, is Exhibit A. From the first notes of “Can’t Sit Down,” Tharpe is rocking like mad, her vocal delivery throwing direct lines to Little Richard and her guitar to Chuck Berry (two others she influenced). Whether singing primal blues with minimal backing (“Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down,” “Peace in the Valley”), a rousing, uptempo, guitar-heavy number (“Down by the Riverside,” “Didn’t It Rain”) or another variation on her particular mojo, Tharpe was thoroughly captivating. The fidelity of this vintage live recording is, of course, not up to contemporary standards, but her charisma and sheer brilliance ring out in every note.