Shout, Sister, Shout! the Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

By Koch, Stephen | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Shout, Sister, Shout! the Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe


Koch, Stephen, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. By Gayle F. Wald. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007. Pp. xii, 252. Preface, illustrations, acknowledgments, notes, index. $25.95.)

That someone reading this journal might wonder who Sister Rosetta Tharpe was, and why she'd merit a biography, points to the necessity of Shout, Sister, Shout! The Woodruff County native, born in Cotton Plant in 1915, broke many spoken and unspoken taboos with her aggressive electric guitar playing, flamboyant manner, and mixing of sacred and secular music. And Tharpe was not only a musical trailblazer. With appearances in film and songs like "This Train," "Strange Things Happening Every Day," and "Up above My Head," she was successful as well-being eclipsed in the mid-1950s gospel music world only by the rise of Mahalia Jackson, whose squeaky-clean image and strong stance against performing secular material were the antithesis of Tharpe's.

As the subtitle suggests, Tharpe influenced prominent performers as disparate as Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Isaac Hayes, and Elvis Presley. Refreshingly, Gayle F. Wald, English professor at George Washington University, seems to grasp the broad cultural import of Tharpe and did not skimp on interview subjects or in background research, all of which is annotated. Wald offers some history of Tharpe's Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ, whose broad definition of sacred music and tradition of musical worship, speaking in tongues, and holy dancing the author correctly credits for shaping young Tharpe as a performer. Ironically, it was Tharpe's performing that caused her troubles with the church.

Like her Decca Records labelmate Louis Jordan-born within a decade of, and a few miles from, Tharpe in Brinkley-Tharpe is a nearly all-encompassing contributor to R&B and rock 'n' roll music whose influence is still being tracked. …

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