Sister Rosetta Tharpe photo by Terry Cryer
Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Terry Cryer

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the very first guitar heroine, and on October 31, 1938, aged 23, she recorded for the first time – four sides for Decca Records, backed by Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra.

The first gospel songs ever recorded by Decca, “Rock Me,” “That’s All,” “My Man and I” and “The Lonesome Road” were instant hits, establishing Tharpe as an overnight sensation and one of the first commercially successful gospel recording artists.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the essential figures in the history of rock and roll. Her heartfelt gospel folksiness gave way to her roaring mastery of her trusty Gibson SG, which she wielded on a level that rivalled the best of her male contemporaries.


Some call her the creator and inventor of Rock and Roll – if she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers.

No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Sister Rosetta was a star in the 1940’s, a black woman singing gospel music to the accompaniment of her own driving electric guitar, howling and stamping.

Her 1945 recording “Strange Things Happening Every Day” has been credited as the first gospel song to cross over to the “race” (later called “R&B”) charts – reaching Number Two and becoming an early model for rock and roll.

She was a sensation, selling out arenas into the 1950’s. In 1947, Sister Rosetta was the first person to put a 14-year-old boy named Little Richard Penniman on a stage. It changed Little Richard’s life – he decided right then to become a performer.

In 1951, 25,000 fans paid to attend her on-stage wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington DC. She was the hottest act on stage with a guitar.

Johnny Cash called her his favourite singer and biggest inspiration, as did Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

By the early Sixties, the musical revolution she inspired had forgotten her – so Sister Rosetta went to England and played electric guitar for the young blues fans of London and Liverpool.

Without Sister Rosetta Tharpe, rock and roll would be a different music.

She is the founding mother who gave rock’s founding fathers the idea.