Black History Month: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Brittani Langland

Gospel music, the folk tune-based genre that incorporates elements of Christianity, made its way into the mainstream music industry thanks to an Arkansas native named Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Born in 1915, Tharpe grew up without a father. Her mother however, was a singing, mandolin-playing, evangelical preacher for the Church of God in Christ. Tharpe played music alongside her mother during her childhood and quickly developed fame for being a musical prodigy.

When 1938 rolled around, Tharpe moved to New York City and signed with Decca Records. There she recorded the first gospel songs ever recorded for Decca. The songs became hits instantly, and Tharpe is now known for being one of the nation’s first commercially successful gospel singers.

However, being a black woman performing gospel music to the American public at the time was definitely controversial. Many people  did not support her, but many others, like jazz legend Cab Calloway, did.

Tharpe’s ability to play for crowds of mixed races showed through when she was asked to record “V-Discs” (the “V” stood for “victory”) for American troops overseas.

Tharpe performed her gospel music her whole life until she died in 1973. Her great popularity helped her influence the music industry, and although she made it into the mainstream world, she was always known as a gospel musician who shared her spirituality with all those who listened to her music.

Resources. All images legally obtained by/from AP images

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