Sister Rosetta Tharpe - guitar, vocals; Slam Stewart - bass; Jo Jones - drums; Ronnie Matthews - piano
A classic triple-threat, gospel star Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a remarkably soulful singer, prolific songwriter and accomplished guitar player whose stinging electric guitar licks punctuated her tunes with sass and grit. A dynamic performer, she was one of the first singers to bring the sanctified power of gospel music into the secular world. Her unrestrained gospel singing style influenced the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and Roseanne Cash while her aggressive six-string style made a huge impression on a generation of guitarists, including Chuck Berry and B.B. King.
Tharpe's Friday evening appearance at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival had her on the bill with the likes of Mose Allison, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz and Joe Williams. She opens her set with an exuberant uptempo version of her 1949 gospel song "Up Above My Head" before settling into an earthy reading of Thomas Dorsey's "This Train," her first hit from 1939. Her ripping rendition of the traditional spiritual number "Down by the Riverside" is laced with the kind of raw, slashing electric guitar licks on a Gibson SG that would be right at home on a White Stripes album. She gets the audience to clap along on her inspired version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and for an encore she sends them home with a toe-tapping rendition another of her big gospel hits, "Didn't It Rain Children," both of which feature a guest appearance by Ronnie Matthews on piano.
Born on March 20, 1921 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, she was the daughter of a traveling missionary and gospel singer by the name of Kate Bell "Mother Bell" Nubbin. Influenced by her mother, she began performing at age four, billed as "Little Rosetta Nubbin, the Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle," accompanying her mother at tent revivals. Exposed to both blues and jazz in the South, she began playing blues and jazz herself in private after her family moved to Chicago in the late '20s while also performing gospel music in public settings. After marrying preacher Thomas Tharpe in 1934, she moved to New York City and in 1938 was signed to Decca Records. In December of 1938, she appeared at John Hammond's Carnegie Hall extravaganza, "From Spirituals to Swing," sharing the bill with the likes of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, James P. Johnson, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and the Gold Gate Quartet.
Tharpe's first recordings for Decca, including unaccompanied renditions of Thomas Dorsey's "Rock Me" and "This Train," made her an overnight sensation. By 1939, she began appearing on bills with the likes of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, and from 1941 to 1943 she was a featured performer with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra. Tharpe continued recording during World War II, one of only two gospel artists able to record V-discs for troops overseas. Her song "Strange Things Happening Every Day," recorded in 1944 with boogie woogie pianist Sammy Price, was the first gospel song to make Billboard magazine's "race records" Top Ten. In 1964, at the height of a surge of popular interest in the blues both here and aboard, she toured the UK as part of the "American Folk Blues and Gospel Caravan" alongside Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, Reverend Gary Davis, Cousin Joe and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Tharpe's performing schedule was curtailed by a stroke in 1970. She died on November 9, 1973 after another stroke on the eve of a scheduled recording session. (Milkowski)