Sister Rosetta was a fervent gospel singer with a vibrant, charismatic stage presence. Unusually, she accompanied herself on electric guitar, with rocking fills and solos in rhythm and blues style. This helped to extend her appeal beyond the religious market and into more widespread realms.
No stranger to jazz and rhythm and blues, she had shuttled convincingly between gospel and jazz settings since the late 30s, performing with joyous rhythmic drive and fiery dynamics. Working with Lucky Millinder’s and Cab Calloway’s orchestras, and blues and boogie pianist Sammy Price, she became a popular star, with This Train and Didn’t It Rain among her many hits.
This CD contains two LPs from the late 50s, both for the gospel market. The Gospel Truth album (first 11 tracks) contains live traditional church gospel music, with unidentified organ and percussion added, and the Sally Jenkins singers as the responding backing choir. Midway, Sister Rosetta gives a spirited solo performance of her old hit Didn’t It Rain, with some rocking guitar, which seems to give everything a bit of a lift. Saviour Don’t Pass Me By and Go Get The Water stand out in some fine tracks which follow.
The second LP, more slickly conceived and arranged, mixes gospel with sentimental, quasi-religious pop ballads such as I Believe, If I Can Help Somebody and Bless This House. The backing vocal group sounds cheesily glib and rehearsed in typical 50s pop style, with pasteurised rather than authentic gospel responses. But Sister Rosetta had the same innate artistry and convincing in-your-face sincerity as Louis Armstrong in transforming the tritest of material. Steering clear of tear-jerking bombast, her performance is, as always, moving and compelling.
The final four bonus tracks feature her in lively, authentic gospel company. Though regrettably brief, they give perhaps the clearest picture of this remarkable artist in her element. The feisty vibrancy, rhythmic drive and sheer joy in her performances could always bring people to their feet.
[The Gospel Truth]. (1) The Lord’s Prayer; One Morning Soon; Things That I Used To Do; It’s Me; I Have Good News To Bring; Didn’t It Rain; Bring Back Those Happy Days; Saviour Don’t Pass Me By; Go Get The Water; Beams Of Heaven; Steal Away ; [Sister Rosetta Tharpe] (2) If I Can Help Somebody; Walk All Over God’s Heaven; I Believe; Take My Hand; Precious Lord; Faith; Twelve Gates (To The City); Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray; He; If You Believe; Light A Candle; Bless This House; Without Him; (3) I Saw The Light; Family Prayer; He’s The Lily Of The Valley; Oh, The Joy That Came To Me (72.02)
Tharpe (v, elg) on all tracks with:
(1) The Sally Jenkins Singers and unidentified rhythm section. Church Of God in Christ, NYC, 9 September 1958.
(2) Unidentified rhythm section and backing vocals. NYC, 21/22 October and 23 November 1959.
(3) The Tabernacle Choir And Players. NYC, 1958.
Hoodoo Records 670103