The untold story of the flamboyant musical prodigy Sister Rosetta Tharpe, America’s first rock guitar diva
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick
Long before “women in rock” became a media catchphrase, African American guitar virtuoso Rosetta Tharpe proved in spectacular fashion that women could rock. Born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, in 1915, Tharpe was gospel’s first superstar and the preeminent crossover figure of its golden age (1945 1965).
Shout, Sister, Shout! is the first biography of this trailblazing performer who influenced scores of popular musicians, from Elvis Presley and Little Richard to Eric Clapton and Etta James. Tharpe was raised in the Pentecostal Church, steeped in the gospel tradition, but she produced music that crossed boundaries, defied classification, and disregarded the social and cultural norms of the age; incorporating elements of gospel, blues, jazz, popular ballads, folk, country, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. Tharpe went electric early on, captivating both white and black audiences in the North and South, in the U.S. and internationally, with her charisma and skill. People who saw her perform claimed she made that guitar talk. Ambitious, flamboyant, and relentlessly public, Tharpe even staged her own wedding as a gospel concert-in a stadium holding 20,000 people!
Wald’s eye-opening biography, which draws on the memories of more than a hundred people who knew or worked with Tharpe, introduces us to this vibrant, essential, yet nearly forgotten musical heavyweight whose long career helped define gospel, r&b, and rock music. A performer who resisted categorization at many levels-as a gospel musician, a woman, and an African American-Tharpe demands that we rethink our most basic notions of music history and American culture. Her story forever alters our understanding of both women in rock and U.S. popular music.
“A book like this is long overdue. Rosetta Tharpe was a major star and a huge influence on the musicians of her day. Listen to her recordings and you can hear all the building blocks of rock and roll.” —Joan Osborne, singer-songwriter
“Rosetta was one of the most beloved and influential artists ever in gospel music . . . and she blazed a trail for the rest of us women guitarists with her indomitable spirit and accomplished, engaging style. She has long been deserving of wider recognition and a place of honor in the field of music history.” —Bonnie Raitt
“Rosetta Tharpe’s life is a classic American tall tale, except that it happened, and, in these pages, you are there.” —Greil Marcus, cultural critic
“Rosetta Tharpe was one of my first influences, one of the first people I heard sing. I’m glad Gayle Wald has done a book on her because people need to know.” —Isaac Hayes
“Absorbing . . . Very much a woman’s story, refreshingly free of Svengalis and impresarios.” —Laura Sinagra, New York Times
“Wald makes a good case that Tharpe’s R&B spirituals played a key role in inventing rock.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Rosetta Tharpe’s life is a classic American tall tale, except that it happened, and, in these pages, you are there.” —Greil Marcus, cultural critic and author of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music
“Wald’s illuminating biography brings the deliciously flamboyant singer to life as gospel’s first superstar and a seminal figure . . . Tharpe was a larger-than-life figure in American pop music. May Wald’s shimmering book revive her for new listeners.” —Booklist
“With the publication of this entertaining and enlightening biography, Tharpe-who reputedly played her electric guitar ‘like a man,’ withstood failed marriages, racial and sexual discrimination plus economic hardships-should receive the recognition she deserves.” —Publishers Weekly
“Mixing tireless reporting with nuanced and cultural insights, Wald’s Shout, Sister, Shout! is about as good as musical reparations get.” —Tony Green, Vibe