The Commercial Appeal Editorial Board
Even though the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should be here in the cradle of rock and soul creation, we appreciate how the folks in Cleveland have duly honored rock’s Mid-South roots.
Inductees include Elvis Presley and B.B. King of North Mississippi, Johnny Cash and Al Green of East Arkansas, and Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner of West Tennessee.
Saturday, the Mid-South music legend who influenced all of them (not to mention Chuck Berry and Little Richard, John Lennon and Bob Dylan and countless others) finally will get her (over)due respect.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the electric-guitar shredding “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” a genuine product of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, and the Church of God in Christ, will be inducted posthumously into the Rock Hall’s Class of 2018.
Like the king and queen of rock and roll, the king of the blues and the man in black, Rev. Al and Rev. Franklin’s daughter, Sister Rosetta was deeply influenced in her youth by the spiritual ecstasy of Southern “holy rollers” screaming, dancing and playing guitars and drums in church.
When she was 19, Sister Rosetta married a COGIC preacher named Thorpe. They divorced four years later, and Rosetta changed her last name to Tharpe.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe became gospel music’s first superstar, touring with the Dixie Hummingbirds. “Rock Me” was her first hit in 1938. “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” which she recorded in 1945 with a hot guitar solo, was the first gospel song to hit the R&B top 10 charts.
She played at the Cotton Club in Harlem with Duke Ellington. She broke the color line, touring with white singers. She even hired the Grand Ole Opry’s Jordanaires as her backup singers years before they sang with Elvis.
“If she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers,” the Rock Hall noted when it announced Sister Rosetta would be inducted as an “early influence.”
“Without Sister Rosetta Tharpe, rock and roll would be a different music. She is the founding mother who gave rock’s founding fathers the idea.”
It took Sister Rosetta 103 years to make the 800-mile journey from her home in Cotton Plant to the Hall in Cleveland. Of course, if the Rock Hall were here, she would have made the trip a lot sooner.