September 3rd, 2013
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Film: The Godmother of Rock & Roll

The life, music and influence of African-American gospel singer and guitar virtuoso Sister Rosetta Tharpe. From writer, producer and director Mick Csaky.

  • Natasha James

    Great documentary and wonderful vintage footage. Soulful and well chosen excerpts. Wow.

  • Lola

    Thank you for this look at the life of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I had heard of her because my mother was born in West Viginia in 1924 and Sister was one of the gospel singers that my mother and grandmother really enjoyed. It was a great pleasure for me to learn about another African American music pioneer.

    As always, thank you PBS

  • Kenneth M Jackson

    Thank you for sharing this incredible history on a greatly Blessed Black Musician.. This was the only time I have ever known about Rosette Tharpe, and I come from a Afro American family that include singers of the Gospel music.. I really enjoyed hearing songs I still sing today in my Men’s Chorus and Gospel Choir at my Church..

  • Sara

    Again I am reminded of how my own American history has failed me. As a baby of the RR era, I have NEVER heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. So…ask me how pissed I am????? So is she in the RR Hall of Fame?

  • sharon stevenson

    I truly enjoyed this bit of history, I’m so glad for the computer becuase I miss the story on the night it aired, I fall asleep miss it again at 5;00 am, so glad I could see it on the computer. THANKS AMERICAN MASTERS, I enjoy all of your programs, because I have father that was a famous Tap dancer. Maybe I’ll see him on show one day. I love pbs. P.S. the Rockfellows was great!!! as well as Henery Ford. Keep u the good work, I love tv seeing that I’m a retired person.

  • Bettie Julkes

    Sister Rosetta should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is the Godmother for Pete’s sake! All that Elvis and certain British groups became and developed into as artists would not have happened without her. It is impossible to imagine the fame Elvis Pressley (and money!) earned without this woman’s influence. Since Sister Rosetta did not get the fame and fortune, she should at least be recognized Ian’s acknowledged in history and the Hall of Fame.

  • Mike Urness

    This is a fantastic documentary. I first hear Sister Rosetta on an NPR Radio show singing Up Above My Head which was taken of a Movie Soundtrack from the movie The Great Debaters. From listening to that song, it was clear she had deep roots in the church. Her music, influence and indomitable spirit live on.

  • kwame

    Thank you for introducing me to this incredibly gift musical pioneer.

  • Luis Williams

    I am sorry that I missed it Saturday night here in New Orleans.

  • Audrey Wagner

    I have searched your website to purchase this DVD/video etc. Please let me know how I can purchase this for Black History Presentation next year. I enjoyed this immensely, Audrey

  • Mark Gabrish Conlan

    Yes! I’ve known and loved Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s incredible music for a long time! I remember when Ray Charles died and the obituaries said that his 1954 record “I Got a Woman” was the first major hit to blend gospel and R&B — something Rosetta Tharpe and Lucky Millinder had done 13 years before with “Shout, Sister, Shout.” This film tribute could have been two hours long and wouldn’t have seemed padded (how about an extended DVD version with complete versions of the songs excerpted in film clips?). Tharpe’s records are marvelous but if the performance footage here is any indication, she really came alive in live performance; anyone who could watch that amazing guitar solo from the 1964 Manchester TV special and still not believe that ALL rock ‘n’ roll is rooted in Black gospel needs to have their ears cleaned out. Any woman who’s ever picked up a guitar and rocked out, from Wanda Jackson to Chrissie Hynde, is following in Sister Rosetta’s footsteps — for that matter, just about all the MEN in rock history are, including Chuck Berry, Elvis and just about everyone since. (I loved the irony of Elvis and his white friends having to sneak into Black churches and sit in the back to hear her!) Regrettably this film didn’t include the Soundie of “That’s All,” which shows visually what a pioneer Rosetta was; there’s Lucky Millinder conducting his band, all in nice suits, sitting behind music stands, looking like every other swing band of the early 1940’s — and there’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe standing in front of them, carrying that huge electric guitar, playing power chords, rockin’ out and looking like she was beamed in from 10, 20 or 50 years later. Does Rosetta deserve to be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? She IS the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!

  • m a graham

    What is wrong with your video? Rosetta Tharp will not play (but you can be sure that the annoying ads play just fine). I’ve had this problem so many times on the PBS site. I get my hopes up, settle down to watch, and . . . nothing. Sometimes they play, sometimes they don’t. What’s wrong?

  • R’dell

    I can’t say enough about Sis. Tharpe’s career and contributions to both gospel and secular genres. It was an excellent portrayal of an icon. I was recently introduced to her by way of the history of gospel. She could have been easily overlooked in the annuals of history had it not been for you documentary. THANKS!

  • Manfred Humphries

    I just discovered that we can’t watch your Rosetta videos because of rights restrictions in our region. Yet WNED beseeches the most populous region of Canada to support PBS. What gall. Its an affront.

  • Phyllis

    My, oh my!!!!! I have never heard of her until tonight. Our history is being hidden til February, why????? I learned after college how Blacks influenced our Great country? Our history made (MAKING) the difference, it is the “200 percent” that moved the US forward. This should be taught front and center in American history not a side note or special projects. I’m not angry but glad, Proud, Happy that slowly but surely ALL Americans are discovering all the history of America, this great country of ours thanks to people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

  • Phyllis

    After the show I called my Mom and mother in law asked if knew about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. In my moms voice I heard her smile, she said yes a great gospel singer that played the guitar.

    My mother in law said she’s the lady that sang the song about the long tall man. I still love that song. She played a guitar too I think. She sang gospel music too, I liked her music we could dance too. She said My dad would play his music on his gospel station in Blackville, SC.

    I heard the joy in both their voices as they remembered. I told them I just learned something’s about her tonight Feb 28, 13. Hum! the 50’s music was just as good as the wonderful 70’s. :) :).

  • Grapost

    Oh my god! What a great talent. Unfortunately she was born 20 years too soon. She was 30 years old in 1953 when Rock N Roll was just starting and she wouldn’t record Rock N Roll music only gospel music. She could have been a Rock N Roll giant. She had everything needed to be a star. If she would have recorded rock n roll music we would all know here name. She truly is the Godmother of Rock N Roll.

  • Darius Mosley

    Rosetta Tharpe Was Amazing singer I love This untold story
    Im Look Up To Her as a vocal teacher in InPrerational person We can All Learn ALot From This Soulful Sister
    She Is a Musical Icon In a Pioneer Rest In Peace

  • Donald Waits

    This was a wonderful treatment of one of the greatest innovators in music. As a very young boy in the 40s I listen to Sister Rosetta Thorpe on “Randy’s Record Shop” from Gallatin, Tn. The only annoying thing about the documentary is the pretentious and affected main narrator who I could not identify. This seems to be a recurring problem with documentaries: the hiring of the wrong people to do the narration, especially individuals who have no “voice” for the particular project. That said, the film was an inspiring and thrilling trip back for me as I was beginning to listen to and understand America’s great musicians. The very first record I bought was by Sister Rosetta Thorpe from a black barber shop since there were no recordings available anywhere else by black artists. As a little white boy, the barber shop was always happy to provide me with those early recordings. Luckily, all of her work is now available on CDs.

  • Janet Braswell

    I watched the Rosetta Tharpe documentary around 2 a.m. one morning. (Thanks, PBS for showing documentaries over and over again.) I was so excited after watching the documentary that I went to the library later on and checked out the book “Shout. Sister, Shout.” It is sad that we are just now hearing about her. That’s what makes me mad about this “free” country–they determine who you hear about. So, thanks, to the author and PBS. (And just think Mitt Romney said the first thing he’d do when elected was to get rid of PBS. It was more than about Big Bird being cut off–it is about Americans knowing about those who’ve contributed to American life.

    And thanks also for “Bush’s War”.

  • Kevin Everett FitzMaurice

    Well done. Appreciated it all. Thank you.

  • Jackie

    I remember listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson LP’s in my play pin.Thank you for bring to life the story of an artist who was a trailblazer.

  • Stacey

    Truly a well written and inspiring documentary about a beautiful soul! Not only does it show the beautiful, talented person she was but also some interesting history of music, our embarassing times of segregation and over all the power music & love has to bring people together.

  • peter gudgeon

    As a white Caucasion male in the UK I adored the whole litany of early black gospel and blues singers from the US including Sister Rosetta Sharpe who provided the solid foundations for rock and roll and a wide range of other musical developments in the 1960’s. As the PBS documentary demonstrate, s the great Uk tradition of blues and rock bands were built largely on the music of these legends and had a large following. A great and worthy tribute by PBS. Lets have more of the same for the other blues ands gospel pioneers of equal merit. Thanks.

  • Bobby

    I was reared during a time I would hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe, but as a child did not pay much attention: only the songs we would sing in the church. I was truely over joyed at the person I heard and saw in the documentary. It made me feel as a child I missed something: I was born in 1940. Ms. M. Jackson was, also, on the and for me it was hard to tell the difference.
    I would like to buy this for my library.
    Thank you, your programs have lifted me on many occassons.

  • olga cave

    A truly great documentary. Thank you for introducing me to such a great African American and music pioneer! I will share this with friends and young people who only know a few such people. Lets get her into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. She clearly showed others the way! Thanks again PBS!

  • Phyllis Y. Hammonds

    Love, the documentary! I am from Helena-West Helena Arkansas about 45 miles from Sister Rosetta Tharp’s hometown! She does not get the credit and recognition she deserves. I only learned about her about 20 years ago, when our local museum, included her in an exhibit! I signed the petition to place her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.Also, I shared this documentary on facebook. So, current and former Arkansans can learn more about her interesting life! She is an Arkansas Delta Treasure!

  • rosa

    i just seen this today online! can anyone tell me when it will be aired again? than you

  • Yvonne Carpenter

    Thank you so much for making this documentary available on the computer. I knew slightly of her. I remembered her name, but I didn’t know her story. What a talent. Was she taught music? I seem to believe that she could hear a melody, or chord and duplicate it on the piano, guitar, or by voice.
    Thanks again for the History Lesson.

  • Marsha

    I am so glad that you featured Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I became very interested in Classic Blues, Americana, and Roots music after listening to shows on my local alternative college station and public radio stations as a teen in the 80s. Even if popular history has failed to successfully showcase Ms. Tharpe, other stations managed to do so, which is why I have a collection of compilations featuring the early women of blues, including Tharpe. Thanks for introducing her to another generation of people, young and old.

  • Diann Tate

    I had never heard of Sister Rosetta before and I am 64 years old. What a remarkable person. Thank you American Masters [ PBS you are fantastic for bringing this wonderful individual alive to the public. Once again, I applaud AM|PBS.

  • Larry N

    Thank you for sharing Sister Rosetta Tharpe with the world. She was a true pioneer, and was such an influence on Mahalia Jackson, another blessing to the African American gospel genre. PBS is such a resource for the nation. This is just an indication of the knowledge you share with the country.

  • Jim Dunaway

    Well done PBS. As a fan of the blues history of America, it is good to see the black forefathers (and God Mothers) given their long over due notice. All of the notable rock & roll bands have been white people who were caught up in listening to the early American black gospel & blues pioneers (examples: Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Elvis…etc)

    None of it would have happened without black soul and talent. Rock would have never ‘rolled’ into America without the likes of Sister Rosetta

  • Karen

    Thank you PBS for sharing Sister Rosetta’s documentary. I truly feel like I have found a gem in the history of music. I concur that she should be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Diane Fleeks

    Greetings from Fairbanks, AK! When I was a kid growing up here, my folks wanted me to know about our African-American culture so they would constantly play records of the music they grew up with and loved. When the promo for this came on my local PBS station last night, I immediately jumped and told my mom this was coming on since I remember hearing a record of hers played repeatedly in our home. I knew nothing about her really, and was fascinated by her story, and her music. Thank you, KUAC-TV and PBS!

  • Jennifer Weber

    I love swing and old time gospel music, so Sister Rosetta was right up my alley. I first found her music by accident on Youtube while looking for swing songs to add to my collection. Amongst the singers such as the Boswell Sisters and the Andrew Sisters I found the song “Shout Sister Shout” by Sister Rosetta and hit play. It was a duet with her Ray MIllander with dozens of background singers and dancers. The song had me dancing in my seat and I instantly fell in love with Sister Rosetta. I wish they had shown her sing “Shout Sister Shout” in the documentary instead of just playing a snippit. But I loved learning more about her and the film was great. I hope she is inducted into the Rock nd Roll hall of fame. She was and is a force to be reckoned with!

  • Mark Gottlieb

    What a tremendous public service PBS has done by presenting so beautifully the life of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and its cultural meaning for us in this documented. And thanks, especially, for making it available online so that as many people as possible can appreciate her phenomenal contribution.

  • Oliver

    Is there anyway to get this documentary on DVD or VOD in the UK?

  • Daniel Hameed

    I want to say thanks you, to all the good people out their who are listening the great voice of my favorite gospel singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.I hope this true because there’s talks going around that there are going to make movie about the life of Sister Rosetta Tharpe,And i hope this that is the gospel truth.

  • John Thompson

    Thank you PBS. Well done! I grew up in the church listening to this music and now a larger audience is coming around to learn and appreciate the genius and talent of one of America’s greatest musical influences. Members of my family were also performers, preachers and singers in the church, the movies and the theater. Thank you again for an excellent presentation.

  • petrarch

    thanks so much for doing a show on Sister Rosetta. She was amazing and is seriously under-appreciated – so hopefully more people will discover her and her music now. Wonderful show and fantastic music. And yes – she belongs in the rock hall of fame!

  • danny

    thank you pbs…….

  • danny

    thank you pbs

  • Donna Jarvis

    Thanks for educating me about the remarkable woman.

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