Who knew that rock music – an industry often imagined as dominated by male figures – was invented by a woman?
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, born in 1915 in Arkansas on a cotton plantation, began singing from the age of 4 in her mother’s evangelical troupe. At the age of 6, she accompanied her mother with her voice but also on the guitar, an instrument rarely used by women at the time. At the age of 23, Rosetta signed her first contract with Decca Records and became the first gospel artist to be signed to a label.
She became an overnight sensation. Imagine her for a minute: a young black woman, singing gospel in nightclubs where people of colour were refused entry, or on prestigious stages in the middle of Manhattan, playing electric guitar, all on the eve of the Second World War, in a country where racial segregation was in full force. A gentle revolution was underway.
Her willingness to unite the sacred and the profane by singing gospel on sustained and popular rhythms shocked her audience.
With a strong head, she imposed her own style. The sound of her guitar was as personal as her style: she would heavily distort the sound of the instrument in order to obtain the very particular sound she loved so much.
Her song “Strange Things Happening Every Day“, recorded in 1944, is a masterful illustration of her guitar virtuosity and is considered as the first rock ‘n’ roll song.
Rosetta broke all the barriers imposed by her gender and skin color.
She sang until 1970 and died in 1973.
Her name had not been added to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland until 2018. The same year, Beyoncé gave a monumental live performance at the Coachella Festival, “Homecoming”, revisiting the beauty of black heritage with 200 singers, dancers and artists on stage.
I want to see it as a sign that the torch is being passed from one African-American woman artist to another, hopefully for a long time to come.
Vintage gown to be found at Marcel & Jeannette – Parisian Flea Market – Roberto Cavalli leather leggings – Cesare Paciotti boots – Essedue sunglasses – Ania Kropacz ring – Photographer Joanna Dijkstra Delys