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American Masters: Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother Of Rock & Roll

Discover the life, music and influence of the African-American gospel singer and guitar virtuoso Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973). During the 1940s-60s, she introduced the spiritual passion of gospel into the secular world of rock ’n’ roll, inspiring some of its greatest stars, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. One of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Tharpe may not be a household name today, but the flamboyant superstar, with her spectacular playing on the newly electrified guitar, played a pivotal role in the creation of rock ’n’ roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Duke Ellington (at piano) and Cab Calloway, with trombonist J.C. Higginbotham ad trumpeter Hot Lips Page looking over the Duke’s shoulder, taken in 1939.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Duke Ellington (at piano) and Cab Calloway, with trombonist J.C. Higginbotham ad trumpeter Hot Lips Page looking over the Duke’s shoulder, taken in 1939.

Credit: Courtesy of Don Peterson/Charles Peterson

Sister Rosetta Tharpe as a teenager in the early 1930s.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe as a teenager in the early 1930s.

Credit: Courtesy of Roxie Moore

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in New York’s Café Society in 1940.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in New York’s Café Society in 1940.

Credit: Courtesy of Don Peterson/Charles Peterson

Sister Rosetta Tharpe recording at Decca Records with bandleader Lucky Millinder (left) and manager Moe Gale (right) in 1941.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe recording at Decca Records with bandleader Lucky Millinder (left) and manager Moe Gale (right) in 1941.

Credit: Courtesy of Don Peterson/Charles Peterson

Sister Rosetta Tharpe recording at Decca Records with her mother Katie Bell holding her guitar in 1941.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe recording at Decca Records with her mother Katie Bell holding her guitar in 1941.

Credit: Courtesy of Don Peterson/Charles Peterson

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in the early 1940s.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in the early 1940s.

Credit: Courtesy of Don Peterson/Charles Peterson via Peter Symes

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (in fur coat) and Marie Knight (on the right with a fur stole) with fans after a concert in St. Louis on 3 June 1947.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (in fur coat) and Marie Knight (on the right with a fur stole) with fans after a concert in St. Louis on 3 June 1947.

Credit: Courtesy of Karl’s Photo of St. Louis from the collection of Mrs. Annie Morrison

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with her third husband, and manager, Russell Morrison in the early 1950s.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with her third husband, and manager, Russell Morrison in the early 1950s.

Credit: Courtesy of Roxie Moore

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with her third husband Russell Morrison in the late 1950s.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with her third husband Russell Morrison in the late 1950s.

Credit: Courtesy of Gayle F Wald

Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the cover of the British music magazine Jazz Journal in November 1957.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the cover of the British music magazine Jazz Journal in November 1957.

Credit: Courtesy of Gayle F Wald

Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the cover of the French music magazine Jazz Hot in February 1958.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the cover of the French music magazine Jazz Hot in February 1958.

Credit: Courtesy of Gayle F Wald

The headstone at the grave of Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia.

The headstone at the grave of Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Credit: Courtesy of Mick Csáky, 2010

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