Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Is The Definition Of Black Rock + Sister Rosetta Thorpe

What is the definition of Black Rock?

That one question made me stop, and really think about how I would define Black Rock for my readers. Then I realized that I can't define black rock music, nor do I want to, because it encompasses every genre. Black rock is a blending of Gospel, R&B, Jazz, hard hitting instruments and voices that all present a unique blend not easily categorized. I realized that music labels have deceptively categorized certain artist in to the cookie cutter genre's that they invented in order to market an artist, and for the label to feel more comfortable. It's so much easier to state that a black artist with a new sound is R&B, than it is to put the artist out with a so called rock title, when the label has defined rock as white music. When you look at that one statement, and realize that it opens Pandora's box, it is easy to see how Black musicians become pigeon holed into mainstream boxes. For that reason, I will not put a definition on what I consider to be Black Rock. I will just share my ideas and thoughts on who and what I think it is through the sharing in this blog. You can define it for yourself. After all it's your own playlist that you listen to at the end of the day. Music crosses over in every aspect of our lives. We as individuals make the true decision of what we want to hear and purchase. Everyone that I know acquires music of all types, regardless of ethnicity or genre. It's all in what you're exposed to and what you yourself seek out in music that feeds your soul. That leads me to my first profile.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an amazing sanctified gospel singer during the 1930's and 40's. But beyond being just a singer she was one of the first bad ass female guitar players that you could ever imagine. She broke boundaries on how music could be sung and played within the church. She blurred color lines with her hard hitting gospel voice and intense unique guitar playing. There are stories of the church filling up with people of all ethnicities and faiths, just to hear her sing and play. She was a self taught musician who strutted on stage doing her thing way before Chuck Berry or Pete Townsend. She is considered, by some, to be the first person to record the first Rock N Roll song entitled "Strange Things Happening Everyday". Tharpe's crossover hit "Strange Things Happening Everyday", was later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis. She was a black artist that everyone listened to regardless of her race, in a time when it wasn't the thing to do.

Her following and admirers were vast. She was held in high esteem within the gospel community and respected by white and black musicians afar including Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and Issac Hayes. So here we begin! A woman of gospel roots who helps define the new sound of Rock-N-Roll with a voice and a guitar. Don't get me wrong, she's not the only one, but she is the first woman documented with pushing the sound of what we consider to be Rock-N-Roll. For those of you interested in learning more about her story, there's a wonderful book out by Gayle Wald, entitled Shout Sister Shout. You can learn more at the site

Here's a video to Sister Roseta Tharpe performing "Up Above My Head". It's gospel, but you can hear the influences of where Rock-N-Roll's early beginnings came from:

There is no live video footage that I can find, for "Strange Things Happening Everyday", but I found a video montage with the track:

Too a musical journey worth sharing,



  1. Hi Danni, Thanks for the nice piece about Rosetta Tharpe and the shout-out. I have been fantasizing for years about the Rosetta biopic, starring Latifah or Fantasia or... [fill in the blank with your favorite candidate]. With Alicia as Marie Knight?

  2. Danni this is awesome! I had an event in Durham called Black Girls Rock and I'm working on a podcast about it right now! Want to record something for it. (Like you reading this post to some of sister Rosetta's music?) Let me know at brokenbeautiful press at gmail!

  3. Imagine my surprise when I began to look for online references--and video--for Rosetta Tharpe and found this posting by you. Never knew that this was an area of particular interest for you. I'm working on A/V for a course I'm proposing as well as some footage for future use (maybe) in a museum exhibit that I might co-curate (if it's funded).

    I hope that all is well with you. Seems that you're busy and incredibly productive.




yasmin lawsuit