Sister Rosetta TharpeOn 20/03/1915: Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Most sources give her birth name as being Rosetta Nubin, however, some researchers state it was Rosether Atkins. Her mother (Katie Harper) encouraged her to sing and play the guitar as Little Rosetta Nubin at the age of four. She was considered to be a musical prodigy. When she was six, she joined her mother in a travelling evangelical troupe. They toured across the south of the US with their part sermon and part gospel concert.
In the mid-1920s, Tharpe and her mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago, they performed religious concerts at the COGIC church.
In 1934, she married Thomas Thorpe, a COGIC preacher. The marriage only lasted a few years, but she used a version of his surname as her stage name as she became Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
In 1938, she left her husband and she moved to New York with her mother. On 31/10/1938, Tharpe made her first recording when she recorded four sides for Decca Records, backed by Lucky Millinder's jazz orchestra. They were the first gospel songs that Decca had ever recorded. The four songs "Rock Me," "That's All," "My Man and I" and "The Lonesome Road" were instant hits. They established Tharpe as a commercially successful gospel artist. She played on several occasions with the white singing group the Jordanaires. Also in 1938, Tharpe appeared with Cab Calloway at Harlem's Cotton Club and in John Hammond's "Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall. Thorpe fell out of favour in conservative religious circles for performing gospel music for secular audiences and because women playing the guitar were frowned upon.
Some people have suggested that Tharpe had little control over the material she recorded with Millinder. By 1943, it is suggested that Rosetta and Millinder were at odds with Rosetta wanting to return to a strictly gospel act. At the time, her nightclub performances would be accompanied by scantily clad showgirls. Tharpe was a talented guitar player and would play at guitar battles at the Apollo.
Tharpe continued recording during World War II. She was one of only two gospel artists able to record V-discs for troops overseas.
In 1944, Tharpe recorded the song "Strange Things Happening Every Day" with Sammy Price. It was the first gospel song to make Billboard's Harlem Hit Parade Top Ten. Tharpe toured throughout the 1940s, backed by various gospel quartets, including the Dixie Hummingbirds.
In 1946, Tharpe saw Marie Knight perform at a Mahalia Jackson concert in New York. Two weeks later, Tharpe showed up at Knight's doorstep to invite her on the road. They would tour the gospel circuit for a number of years and recorded hits such as "Up Above My Head" and "Gospel Train".
By 1949, Mahalia Jackson was starting to eclipse Tharpe in popularity and Knight wanted to become a solo act. Around this time, Knight lost her children and mother in a house fire. In the same year, Tharpe put on a concert to commemorate Tharpe's one year anniversary of becoming a homeowner in Richmond, Virginia. The Twilight Singers were the support act for the concert. Tharpe recruited them as her background singers for future concerts and called them "The Rosettes".
In 1951, Tharpe attracted 25,000 paying customers to her wedding with her manager Russell Morrison followed by a vocal performance at Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C.
In 1957, Tharpe went on a month long Chris Barber tour of the UK.
In 1964, Tharpe toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan alongside Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Ransom Knowling, Little Willie Smith, Reverend Gary Davis, Cousin Joe, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Tharpe was introduced and accompanied on piano by Cousin Joe Pleasant.
In 1970, Tharpe suffered a stroke after which one of her legs was amputated as a result of complications from diabetes.
On 09/10/1973, Tharpe died after having another stroke in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 2004, Tharpe's hit "Down by the Riverside" was selected for the National Recording Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress.
In 2007, Tharpe was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In 2008, a concert was held to raise funds for a marker for her grave, January 11 was declared Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania and a historical marker was placed at her home in Yorktown, Philadelphia.