This year’s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced, and they have finally gotten around to adding Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who’s got a pretty good claim to having invented that shit. She got her credit the same year as Dire Straits and Bon Jovi.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Tharpe—a major gospel star who broke ground with her electric guitar style and tackling of secular themes, predating the Sun Records crew and paving the way for basically everybody who came afterward—will be inducted in the “early influences” category. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado wrote of Tharpe’s distinctive sound and approach in NPR:
Although Tharpe’s distinctive voice and unconventional style attracted fans, it was still the mid-1930s. Female guitarists were rare, and even more so was a musician who pursued both religious and secular themes, a fact that alarmed the gospel community. But Tharpe — young and innovative — was determined to keep experimenting with her sound. Her persistence and grit paid off, and by 1938, she had joined the Cotton Club Revue, a New York City club that became especially notable during the Prohibition era. She was only 23 at the time, a feat that was only amplified when she scored her first single, “Rock Me,” a gospel and rock ‘n’ roll fusion, along with three other gospel songs: “My Man and I,” “That’s All” and “Lonesome Road.”
And Will Hermes explained her influence in Rolling Stone:
Tharpe’s first hit, in fact, was the transformed spiritual “Rock Me,” recorded with her soaring held notes and sexy growls back in 1938 – when the latter-day King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley, was still a toddler. Tharpe would later hire Grand Old Opry stars the Jordanaires to back her, years before they began working for Presley, who was her unabashed fan. “Elvis loved Sister Rosetta,” recalled the Jordanaires’ Gordon Stoker, especially her “incredible” guitar style. “That’s what really attracted Elvis: her pickin’. He liked her singing, but he liked that pickin’ first – because it was so different.”
Also inducted this year was the legendary Nina Simone.
Take it away, Sister Rosetta: