This Day in Black History: March 20, 1915

Gospel pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas.

Posted: 03/18/2013 12:06 PM EDT
Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Guitarist and gospel singer Rosetta Nubin Tharpe was born on March 20, 1915, in Cotton Plant, Arkansas.

Tharpe was a pioneering artist in gospel music as she was one of the first artists to perform in both churches and secular clubs. As one of the only Black women guitarists of the time, Tharpe’s distinctive sounds helped popularize gospel among white audiences in the 1930s and 1940s and she is credited with being the godmother of modern rock 'n’ roll.

Raised by her mother, who was a singer and preacher for the Church of God in Christ, Tharpe began her musical career at the age of four when she would regularly join her mother on stage to sing and play guitar. By age six, Tharpe was a regular performer in a traveling troupe of Christian evangelists.

In 1938, Tharpe moved to New York City and released four gospel songs with Decca Records. "Rock Me," "That's All," "The Man and I" and "The Lonesome Road" were all instant hits and solidified Tharpe as one of the first commercially successful gospel singers.

Tharpe’s career spanned over 30 years, and she continued to tour until her death in 1973.

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(Photo: Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

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