Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rick-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle F. Wald

I only recently discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, either through one of my blues compilations or from happening across a You Tube video of one of her performances (or both). This gospel shouter was born in 1915 and played steadily until her death from complications due to her diabetes in 1973. What made her unique – in the secular world, especially – was the fact that she was also a stellar guitarist and more than a match for most men.

Wald chronicles Tharpe’s career, from her early days (pre-teens) in her Church of God in Christ (a sect that talks in tongues, believes in extreme abstinence and yet also believes in raising their voices in a “joyful noise”) through her commercial days in the secular world (where she still mostly played gospel though she had a couple of tangents into the blues world – not much of a stretch, of course, other than in lyrical content) and into her inclusion in the British folk/blues revival and her successful tours of Europe.

The book does an excellent job in digging up the life story of this wonderful and colorful character and there are some terrific compilations available nowadays, as well, but the best way to truly appreciate the Sister is to watch some of her videos (which Wald references throughout the book). She could always raise the roof with her gospel shouting and tear it up on her super-cool white Gibson SG Custom electric guitar. While not as well known as some of her blues counterparts, she certainly influenced many of the 60’s rock’n’rollers during the time she spent over there.

This is a tale of not just a terrific singer/guitarist, but of the gospel world (and some of its hypocrisy), civil rights, women’s rights and the growth of popularity of blues and the birth of rock’n’roll. Tharpe was an important part of it all and deserves a place of higher prominence in our musical history.