Sister Rosetta Tharpe, considered gospel music’s first superstar, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Ark., Tharpe started singing with her mother at churches and revivals as a young girl. After moving to Chicago, Tharpe began fusing urban and rural influences into her music, broadening her appeal.
The groundbreaking and influential singer followed her first hit, “Rock Me,” with successful singles like “Didn’t It Rain” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.”
Following a failed marriage to a preacher in her teenage years, Tharpe met singer Marie Knight in 1946. After recording “Up Above My Head” together, the pair toured as a team.
In her 2007 biography of Tharpe, Shout, Sister, Shout!, historian Gayle Wald writes that Tharpe and Knight became lovers in an “open secret,” although their relationship eventually faded.
A fellow musician also claimed to have walked in on Tharpe in bed with two other women, shortly after her third marriage. “For homosexuals in her audiences, rumors about Rosetta’s sexuality might have been liberating, an invitation to look for tell-tale signs of affirmation of their own veiled existence,” Wald writes.
When Tharpe died in 1973, Knight did her makeup and helped select her burial clothing.
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe was anything but ordinary and plain,” said Bob Dylan on his Theme Time Radio Hour show. “She was a big, good-lookin’ woman, and divine, not to mention sublime and splendid. She was a powerful force of nature. A guitar-playin’, singin’ evangelist.”
The 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, announced earlier this week, also include Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Bon Jovi, The Cars, and Nina Simone.
The 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held April 14, 2018, at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium.