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Rock & Roll Books

By Margaret Moser, Fri., June 1, 2007

Rock & Roll Books

Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

by Gayle F. Wald

Beacon, 252 pp., $25.95

For all the biographies and academic studies on popular music, every stone overturned leads to five more. That's certainly the case with Gayle F. Wald's wonderful books on Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1921-1973), the woman who trod the brambled path between religion and rock & roll. Tharpe was an ambitious, enigmatic woman, a tough cookie with one hand gripping the neck of her electric guitar and the other pointing toward heaven. Her fundamentalist upbringing in the Jim Crow South sparred with her desire for worldly success, yet she was as home in the sanctuary as she was at the Cotton Club or conducting her third marriage in a stadium before an audience of hundreds. With sheer chutzpah and outstanding recordings like her showstopping "Strange Things Happening Every Day," she role-modeled for Barbara Lynn, Peggy "Lady Bo" Jones, Norma Jean "the Duchess" Wofford, and modern performers such as Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Ruthie Foster. Like many pioneers, Tharpe found problems aplenty along the way: a minister husband laying with his flock, rumors of bisexuality, and health problems that ended her life prematurely. In the ongoing debate about the first rock & roll record, Tharpe's name is seldom mentioned. No excuse now.

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