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Rosetta Nubin Was the Guitar-Playing “Godmother” of Rock and Roll

Rosetta Nubin was an incredible singer who mixed her church roots with the blues. Despite being dubbed "The Godmother of Rock and Roll," her achievements and diverse musical abilities remain relatively unknown.

Born on March 20, 1915, in the small town of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Rosetta's parents were cotton workers. While her mother actively participated in the local church, little was known about her father, except that he sang during his free time.

At the age of six, Rosetta, performing religious songs alongside her mother, went by the name Little Rosetta Newbin. Renowned for her exceptional guitar-playing skills, she became exposed to the early recordings of blues queens like Ma Rainey and The Trio of Smiths: Bessie, Trixie, and Mamie. Blues, predominantly sung by females, was the era's most popular music, and Rosetta found herself immersed in it, blending it with the music of her upbringing.

In 1934, at just 19, Rosetta married Thomas Thorpe, a preacher and part of the touring troupe she and her mother were associated with. Their marriage lasted only four years, during which Rosetta adopted the name Tharpe. As Sister Rosetta Tharpe, she joined Lucky Millander’s Big Band orchestra, alongside Bull Moose Jackson, Ruth Brown, and Wynonie Harris, who later gained fame in the rising R&B scene of the 1940s. Rosetta's bluesy yet church-like voice marked her first recordings in late October 1938.

Rosetta mastered the country blues style beginning with her song ‘Rock Me.’ Her electric guitar was heard for the first time, which influenced some of the greatest rock and roll stars such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Her electric guitar solo was shocking and new to many people.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe played a pivotal role in shaping music history. As a female blues singer, she defied norms and steered the evolution of music. Her influence resonates in the work of many, contributing to the music landscape we cherish today.

[Sources: USA Today; Encyclopedia of Arkansas; NPR]

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