“She would sing until you cried and then she would sing until you danced for joy.” – Epitaph, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
You could be forgiven if you’ve never heard the name Sister Rosetta Tharpe – or if you’re surprised to hear that to many, she’s considered “the Godmother of Rock and Roll.”
Sister Rosetta might not be a household name; however, as a young woman during the 1940s through the Sixties, she brought gospel music from the church to the mainstream, performing in such prestigious venues as The Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. Her recorded music and live performances played a highly significant role in the creation of rock, with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard and Chuck Berry citing her as an inspiration.
A shredding guitar player, one of the very first players to use distortion, she was rocking long before the term rock ‘n’ roll emerged. Bringing the music of the church to the masses, it was the soul, feeling and energy of gospel music that was a huge influence on artists such as Elvis, Buddy Holly and many others. The gospel influence was the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.
Many don’t realise the significance of gospel music on the development of much of the music we enjoy today. Rock, RnB, Soul, Blues, Jazz all owe their roots to the oppression of slavery and the huge melting pot of America’s south. The work songs and spirituals sung by the slaves became a form of expression, singing about their suffering, hope for their heavenly home and a cry for deliverance. Many traditional gospel songs originated from the spirituals, being passed down and shared over many years.
Fascinated by the history and stories of the music, Robyn Brown has created a Gospel show, “Down by the Riverside” performing many of the influential songs from the genre and telling the stories behind them.
“I fell in love with Sister Rosetta Tharpe a few years ago”, says Robyn. “She’s such a powerhouse of a woman, rocking away on her guitar but never compromising her message. But she’s not the only gospel performer, just the first one to take those traditional songs to a mainstream audience. Many early blues musicians also performed those traditional gospel songs or like Blind Willie Johnson, wrote many songs that we’d now call gospel tunes”
‘Down by the Riverside’ will feature traditional tunes, negro spirituals and songs from Blind Willie Johnson, Mavis Staples, Sam Cooke, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and many others as well as stories along the way. These are the songs that will touch your heart, stir your soul, have you clapping your hands and singing along.
“There are so many great stories to tell that the hard part is deciding which ones to include”, says Robyn. “For example, some of the spirituals that were sung by the slaves were actually coded messages on how to escape. I won’t be able to tell all the stories but hopefully the songs will tell the stories through the show. There are songs of pain, songs of hope and songs of joy. I love the passion and the heart of gospel music and want to share that with the audience”.
Robyn, along with some of Queensland’s finest musicians will be bringing their show ‘Down by the Riverside’ to Twilight Jazz in the Park at Warwick Jumpers and Jazz Festival on Saturday 27th July, 4.00pm – 9.00pm. Tickets ($20) can be booked through