Sister Rosetta Tharpe ©1999JCMarion


Rosetta Tharpe was born in March of 1921 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. She was the daughter of Kate Bell "Mother Bell" Nubbin a traveling missionary and gospel shouter. Rosetta influenced by her mother's musical background developed a unique vocal and guitar style that soon interested the people at Decca Records. She signed on with that label in 1938 and steadily gained popularity until a huge R & B hit in 1944 with a boogie woogie style called "Strange Things Happening Every Day". In 1946 she teamed up with another gospel singer with R & B stylings named madame Marie Knight and their record of "Up Above My Head" was a huge hit that year. Tharpe and Knight then recorded a number of straight R & B records that did not sit well with their gospel fans. Soon after Tharpe returned to her gospel roots but it took some time for her to be forgiven by her gospel music lovers.

Leading up to 1950 Tharpe made a number of recordings with Marie Knight. Included among this list were :

#48043 - "This Train" / "When I Come To The End Of My Journey"

#48054 - "Didn't It Rain" / "Stretch Out"

#48070 - "Beams Of Heaven" / "Precious Memories"

#48090 - "Up Above My Head" / "My Journey To The Sky"

#48098 - "He Watches Me" / "He's All I Need"

Records made by Rosetta Tharpe as a solo performer during the 1940s included -

#18353 - "Rock Me"

and two huge hits from the year 1942 -

#18386 - "Shout Sister Shout" / "I Want A Tall Skinny Papa"

#18496 - "That's All"

records made with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra -

#3956 - "Rock Daniel"

#4041 - "Trouble In Mind"

and records made as Sister Rosetta Tharpe -

#8528 - "The End Of My Journey"

#14575 - "Blessed Assurance"

All of these recordings were made for Decca Records.

In March of 1950 Tharpe signs a four year renewal of a recording contract with Decca Records. Two months later Tharpe begins a tour with her mother, Kate Bell "Mother Bell" Nubbin. The tour will last 115 days, visit 97 cities in 18 states and feature The Rosettes, James Root Jr., and The South Wind Jubilee Singers. The tour stops at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. and draws more than 25 thousand. In mid August the tour draws a large crowd to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. In August Decca #48166 is released by Rosetta Tharpe. It is "The Natural Facts" and "I Heard My Mother Call My Name". In October Decca releases #48177 - "Going Back To Jesus" and "Little Boy, How Old Are You?", and at year's end Decca #48190 - "Family Prayer" / "Heaven Is Not My Home" with Sammy Price.

The biggest news involving Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1951 is her very public marriage ceremony held at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. to Russell Morrison a manager of New York's Savoy Ballroom. The wedding takes place during the annual gospel tour. In April of 1952 Decca records releases #28075 - "Let's Talk About Jesus" / "Come Unto Me". That may Sister Rosetta embarks on an extensive tour of Texas. In August Decca#28282 - "In The Garden" and "The Last Mile Of The Way". By the end of the year Sister Rosetta Tharpe has another Decca release featuring "There Is A Highway To Heaven" / "I'm Bound For Higher Ground", once again as a duet with Marie Knight on #28509. The first release on Decca in 1953 is #28557 - "How Well Do I Remember" and "I Just Couldn't Be Contented", two songs with a much more secular appeal. By July she was back in the gospel field with another duet with Marie Knight on Decca #48301 - "Let's Go On" / "Let Go His Hand". The version of "Crying In The Chapel" by Rosetta is selling big in the pop field, right in there among the other versions by Darryl Glen, Art Lund, The Orioles, and June Valli. That October Decca #48304 - "Feed Me Jesus" / "Smile It Through", and is followed by #28754 - "I'll Meet You Over Yonder" / "All Alone With Christ The Lord". That December Marie Knight joins Rosetta Tharpe on "Nobody's Fault" and "Shadrach" on Decca #49309.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded very little in 1954, spending much of the year traveling the gospel circuit. Decca #48311 is issued in April - "What Have I Done" and "Don't Leave Me Here To Cry", again recorded out of the gospel field. In November #48328 - "When Jesus Was Born" is paired with "In Bethlehem". In march of 1955 Rosetta records "Stand The Storm" and "Look Away In The Heavenly Land" both done with Marie Knight. In May Sister Rosetta and Marie Knight do a well received two week stand at Chicago's Black Orchid nightclub. In October #48337 - "He Is Everything To Me" and "Every Time I Feel The Spirit", and she closes out the year with another duet along with Marie Knight - :\"When The Saints Go Marching In" and "Can't No Grace Hold My Baby Down" which is a first on Mercury for the duo on #70910. In 1957 Tharpe tours England and Scotland with the Chris Barber band.

In the late nineteen fifties Sister Rosetta Tharpe concentrated on her gospel roots, and appeared often with Marie Knight, and did not revisit the pop charts but remained a big name on the gospel music community. She continued to tour into the mid sixties with such gospel attractions as The Caravans, James Cleveland, and Prof. Alex Bradford. In 1973 the very much beloved Sister Rosetta passed away at the relatively young age of 52. The legacy of Tharpe in the history of Rhythm & Blues music is that here was an identifiable link to the strong influence of the Black church in the sound of R & B of the post war American scene. Sister Rosetta Tharpe - an American original.

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