Maybe it’s the sight of a devil-horned Gibson SG — the signature guitar of Angus Young and Pete Townsend — being slung by an impeccably dressed sanctified church lady, but I love these videos of Sister Rosetta Tharpe in action.
Check out those solo moves. Tharpe was already playing fierce guitar at the age of six and her voice, with its powerful resonant vibrato, grew in tandem with her playing. Tharpe’s style bridged gospel and blues, and almost from the start she carried herself with a sense of style and theatricality rarely seen in gospel at the time. Her recording career started in 1938 and throughout World War II her popularity grew to the point where she was one of only two black gospel acts to record V-Discs for distribution to soldiers overseas. But when she recorded some straight blues sides in the Fifties, her gospel base all but abandoned her and Tharpe fell into obscurity. She continued to perform, though, and by the Sixties her credibility with gospel audiences had grown enough to win her gigs alongside gospel legend James Cleveland.
Tharpe’s career is chronicled in Gayle F. Wald’s recent book Shout, Sister, Shout!