Music Everywhere

by Belle Waring on April 24, 2015

Sister Rosetta Tharpe! I think I’ve already made a whole post telling you to listen to more Sister Rosetta Tharpe before, but that doesn’t matter! Because the defect of her recorded sessions is that the guitar is mixed down way low and you can’t hear her rock out on the guitar. But I found these live sessions that just…

You weren’t expecting that old lady to play that solo were you? She has a goddamn (sorry Sister) whammy bar on that thing!
What about this? And, goddamn, not sorry, did they not let any black people even come to this concert? That’s stone cold, fellow white people. Stone. Cold.

This is from when she was younger.

The version of this song I know says “when you see a man jump from church to church/you know the conversion don’t amount to much,” and I have uncharitably said this about Rod Dreher.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s frequent performance of all these songs in nightclubs were obviously ironic and different…
This short BBC documentary about her and her influence is interesting (just 15 minutes).
UPDATE: OK you can click through and there is a whole hour of BBC documentary. I haven’t watched it. Also, she didn’t sing straight gospel in nightclubs, she sang other songs, but she also had ironic versions of the gospel songs like “This Train”, in which she sang no whiskey-drinkers or cigar-smokers would make the cut while in The Cotton Club!



JanieM 04.24.15 at 4:00 am

Thanks, Belle. Wow.


Belle Waring 04.24.15 at 4:08 am

She was super-influential on the 1st generation of rock-n-rollers, black and white. Her style really suited itself to an upgrade to electric guitar sound. She played on a steel guitar and sang–steel guitars are LOUD, and they have to be to get any traction over piano, bass, and either a whole gospel chorus or horns. The set-up where the drummer has brushes is identical to what you see in every MTVlive performance. Her voice is BIG for the same reason. I find the flourishes while she’s momentarily not picking interesting also–this is very much what the lead singer in a rock band does for effect while someone else is playing rock steady rhythm guitar further backstage in the gloom.


uila 04.24.15 at 4:40 am

She’s dynamite, thanks for sharing! Here’s a bit of the Campbell Brothers out of Rochester, NY carrying on the sacred steel tradition. Makes you want to go to church!


Chris 04.24.15 at 5:19 am

So, she appears to be playing a Gibson custom shoppe SG guitar, known in blues circles as a Satan Guitar.


Chris 04.24.15 at 5:23 am

Gibson started making SG’s in 1961, so I’m guessing these are from mid 60’s. I’d seen her before, she is indeed a joy and a fine guitarist, thanks for the post.


Harold 04.24.15 at 5:36 am

She is great!


Belle Waring 04.24.15 at 6:00 am

She played a steel guitar when she worked without amplification, is what I mean. It meant that when she moved to electric her style was well-suited to it. But if that custom Gibson was called a “Satan Guitar” that’s extra funny–thanks for that!


Belle Waring 04.24.15 at 6:54 am

I love in the first song where the white audience is all “we’ll clap! we know about music! we r smart!” and she’s like “don’t even. You clap when I tell you and not before. Also, piano player, where the fuck were you when your cue to sing ‘this train’ came up?” I think it’s interesting how they put his mike far from him on the piano top so he could contribute call and response in a way that sounds “distant” or “apart from” even though he shares the stage.


Louis Proyect 04.24.15 at 11:58 am

Many years ago I owned an LP of Rosetta Tharpe playing the blues backed by a big band, can’t remember which one exactly. I wish it was reissued on CD but doubt that this will ever happen. You can get a feel for what she sounded like in the pre-gospel period from this anthology on CD. Play “Four or Five Times”, which of course refers to sex:


dn 04.24.15 at 1:23 pm

She’s awesome. I first heard her in a documentary on roots music some years ago and it blew my mind. Pretty sure this was the clip featured in the doc:


mattski 04.24.15 at 2:34 pm

I see a resemblance.


Mark Jamison 04.24.15 at 2:56 pm

Sunday mornings at 9:30 (eastern) WWOZ, the public radio station in New Orleans has a wonderful show primarily featuring Black gospel. The host, Lauren Mastro, regularly plays Sister Rosetta among others. Streams at


NickS 04.24.15 at 3:50 pm

Thank you! Those videos are great.


Belle Waring 04.24.15 at 4:02 pm

She recorded “Four or Five Times” in an intermediate phase after she left her first husband, joined a big band with a white conductor, and played uptown in Harlem. She shocked and alienated her gospel base, but then went on to return to gospel, both in the clubs and for recorded music. I learned from the BBC documentary today that she was queer and in a relationship with the woman with whom she recorded the album version of “Up Above My Head” and that with the one on guitar and the other on piano they toured together just the two of them, possibly somewhat dangerously, through the Jim Crow south! [the more you know rainbow…]


pritesh 04.24.15 at 4:46 pm


R. Gould-Saltman, "The MacGyver Family Law Lawyers" 04.24.15 at 6:41 pm

Smokin’. Learned about her from Mary Catherine Aldin’s blues and gospel show, on KPFK, back in the 70’s. BTW, that’d be a three-pickup “Les Paul/SG Special”. Impossible to tell, from the B&W footage, if this one had the gold-plate hardware that some did.


PJW 04.24.15 at 10:28 pm

Great stuff. Thanks!


js. 04.25.15 at 3:35 am

Holy shit! This is amazing! Thanks, Belle.


js. 04.25.15 at 3:46 am

And speaking of all-white crowds freaking out to black early rock and roll artists, this is amazing. (It’s also about as good as rock & roll has ever been or will be.)


Martin Bento 04.25.15 at 9:25 am

Great clips, Belle. Now, how do we expand the thread? Not just Tharpe footage, surely. Blues and Gospel artists? Spectacular black woman vocalists? Yeah, that one. Here’s the woman who’s been tearing up the contemporary flamenco world, Concha Buika (I’m hoping I remember how to make the embeds work here).


ZM 04.25.15 at 10:20 am

Music Everywhere is a great song, I have never heard of her before.

On spectacular black women vocalists – an Australian Indigenous woman Ruby Hunter was a beautiful singer and has a voice a little like a female Tom Waits in a good way. As she is passed away this comment includes images of a passed away indigenous person which it is normal to give a warning about like this. She and her husband Archie Roach (accompanying her here) were among the Stolen Generations and I think were homeless when they met at the Salvation Army, which is what this song Down City Streets is about.

Our choir leaders led a big combined choir in Melbourne last year and then a slightly smaller one this year in town where we accompanied Archie Roach which was a great honour and I felt sure she was watching over him.


Jacob Haller 04.25.15 at 11:59 am

Is the version of ‘That’s All’ you’re referring to the Ry Cooder version? I love that recording, but the Sister Rosetta Tharpe version you linked to … wow.


Marshall 04.25.15 at 2:58 pm

she’s like “don’t even”

I was at a white people’s Ray Charles performance at Paul Mason Vineyards long ago. At the end he starts a response thing: beats three notes, da da da and we echo, da da da. He plays three more notes, bending the last one, da da dah. The audience comes back da da da … missed it completely. Ray slamed the piano shut, showed the teeth, and off he went. Pretty funny, but I wish we could have played. I notice in the video Sister has got her eyes raised, like, I’m talking with the Lord here, the rest of you keep quiet and take what you can. Amongst the white people that’s about what you can do, I guess.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 04.25.15 at 6:08 pm

Music like this almost makes me forgive god-bothering.


Martin Bento 04.25.15 at 6:58 pm

ZM, that was great. And I never heard of her. If we;re going to get all native, there’s Native American Martha Redbone, who had established herself as an R&B vocalist, pretty much, and then decided to do an album of William Blake settings. Now, if you’re an R&B singer and you want to set Blake, what style do you use? I mean, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Country and Western, of course.

Although with lots of other influences popping in, including native music, I think.


The Temporary Name 04.25.15 at 7:34 pm

Accidentally ended up with a record that had this:

And that is sublime…


The Temporary Name 04.25.15 at 7:35 pm

But jeebus this is nutty:


ZM 04.25.15 at 11:21 pm

Belle Waring,

“I love in the first song where the white audience is all “we’ll clap! we know about music! we r smart!” and she’s like “don’t even. You clap when I tell you and not before. ”

There’s a clip of Nina Simone doing See Line Woman where she has a similar issue with the band and backups – and then getting the audience to sing . It is pretty funny. I also like the kid’s dance game version by Christine and Jatherine Shipp recorded by Alan Lomax


dn 04.26.15 at 1:47 am

If we’re talking Native American female singers now, Karen Dalton is basically obligatory:


dn 04.26.15 at 2:01 am

ZM, I was just listening to that LoC/Lomax compilation yesterday. It’s terrific!


ZM 04.26.15 at 11:26 am

Yes it is a great compilation dn – terribly bad to listen to while commuting though since you want to sing along. Karen Dalton’s songs are beautiful I like the album Green Rocky Road best but I can only listen to them if I happen to be in a very good mood and also happen to want to listen to sad songs.


JPL 04.26.15 at 11:35 am

The music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Bo Diddely reminds me of my father, who used to play those records all the time and blast them on the enormous speakers he’d had custom- made. (I loved it.)

There was a video of British singer Laura Mvula doing a nice version of “See Line Woman” in an intimate setting with the band getting into it, Laura with the shekere, and good audio, as a segue from her song “Green garden”, which has similar characteristics, but the bloody bastards behind the Youtubes have taken it down. I hate when they do that! But here’s Laura Mvula doing “Green garden”. People should check out the rest of her songs too.


Martin Bento 04.26.15 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for turning me to Karen Dalton, Laura Mvula, and Ruby Hunter, people. Good music.


ZM 04.27.15 at 3:19 am

Thanks for recommending Martha Redbone too! I had never heard of her. She has some great songs


Belle Waring 04.27.15 at 3:22 am

Thanks as usual for all the awesome other music, people! Y’all never disappoint!

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