No history of rock ‘n roll would be complete without Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel singer who picked up an electric guitar in the 1940s and helped carve a path later walked by the likes of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. When virtually no women were fronting a guitar solo act, Tharpe was on the cutting edge.
To honor Tharpe, guitar maker Gibson is now offering a line of Tharpe merchandise. In a press release, the company said it was partnering with the late artist’s estate for a “limited-edition lifestyle and accessories collection,” including T-shirts, a tour jacket, pennants, and, naturally, a guitar—a 61st-anniversary edition of the Les Paul SG preferred by Tharpe that retails for $6700.
Tharpe was born and raised in Arkansas, where she picked up guitar at a young age and began appearing onstage along with her mother as a traveling gospel performer. As an adult, she scored record deals and was an early adopter of the electric guitar. Her performances attracted religious followers as well as people intoxicated by her contemporary spin on music. Johnny Cash, Tina Turner, and a host of others have credited Tharpe as being an inspiration.
After becoming a prominent performer in the 1940s, Tharpe alienated some of her more devout followers with her iconoclastic, flashy style. She died in 1973 at age 58 following a stroke, and she was placed in an umarked grave. That was corrected in 2009, when a benefit concert was arranged to raise money for a headstone.