Home » How a Black woman gospel singer helped pioneer rock ‘n’ roll

How a Black woman gospel singer helped pioneer rock ‘n’ roll

by The Grio

When you think of rock ‘n’ roll, you might not think of high heels and a long church coat. But it turns out one of the pioneers of the genre was a Black woman who survived Jim Crow and became one of the most influential guitar players in American history.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, is just one of the many Black women gospel singers, profiled in a new book by NY1 TV anchor and journalist Cheryl Wills, called “Isn’t Her Grace Amazing! The Women Who Changed Gospel Music.”

She was dynamic, the original soul singer,” Wills tells theGrio in a recent appearance on TheGrio Weekly. “She had a gift to sing, and she also had talent. She knew she wanted to play an instrument, so she decided to play the guitar. And people said, ‘Girl, you can’t play no guitar. That’s a man’s instrument.’ And she said, ‘OK, if no one will teach me, I’ll teach myself.’”

Born in 1915, Tharpe, was the daughter of cotton pickers who were members of the COGIC faith.  Tharpe was considered a musical prodigy by age six, and traveled around the country playing her guitar and singing in church conventions.  

Her signature bop and guitar style earned her accolades and a chance to recorded gospel music at just 23 years old.  Her hit song “Rock Me” is the record that is most credited with inspiring the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Little Richard. In 2018, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her achievements, Tharpe endured criticism for her crossover appeal and the decision to play in secular spaces like clubs.

“These women, of course, lived in a time when Black women, especially truly all women, but especially Black women, were to be seen and not heard,” Wills tells theGrio. She says stories like Tharpe’s and others motivated her to write a book that would elevate them to their rightful place.

“They really were pioneers and trailblazers in the…

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