Song of the Day: Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Marie Knight “Up Above My Head”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is an artist like no other. Her music is absolutely soul-stirring. Her singing and guitar wizardry is simply out of this world! She was enormously influential and she played what came to be known as rock ‘n’ roll before anybody else! This version of “Up Above My Head” was recorded in New York City in 1947 for the Decca label. Shortly prior to this recording, Tharpe had been inspired by a young singer named Marie Knight, who she asked to join her. The two recorded and performed all over the country together until 1951 when Knight decided to return to being a solo artist. “Up Above My Head” was one of their biggest hits, reaching number six in the R & B Chart in 1948.
Tharpe was born in 1915 as Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Despite a difficult upbringing, her gifts as a musician and performer were recognized early. Her mother, an evangelist for the Church of God in Christ, had her singing and playing guitar during services by the time she was four years old. She was a childhood prodigy and she captivated her audiences with her talent, charisma, personality and spirit from the very beginning. She went on the road with her mother from the age of six, building a national audience as the “singing and guitar playing miracle” that she was. By her late teens, Tharpe was a full-blown celebrity in the world of gospel music.
At age 23, much to the dismay of her Church-going Gospel fans, Thorpe began a foray into recording secular music as she expanded her audience around the world. While this new music had roots in gospel, blues, R&B and country, it was something a little different. Something new, which would eventually be recognized as the foundation for what would come to be called rock ‘n’ roll within a couple of years. Tharpe‘s high-energy, powerhouse performances were hugely influential to many of the more widely recognized official founders of rock ‘n’ roll themselves, from Chuck Berry to Little Richard. Tharpe was a super star before there was such a thing. She toured all around the world, performed and recorded right up until her death in 1973.
Tharpe‘s collaborator on this track, Marie Knight continued to record and perform until her late 80’s. She died in 2009 after having just released a full-length album in 2007. Thank you and God bless these two incredible women!