Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Wales
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a versatile performer: holy-roller, gospel singer, axe-woman. Her extraordinary life story was the subject of a recent BBC4 documentary which sought to re-evaluate her career and elevate her position to the status of godmother of rock’n’roll. Tharpe came to Wales in 1957 as part of a gruelling month-long UK tour with jazzer, Chris Barber, and his band. She did 20 shows, travelling from gig to gig on a coach. Her first Welsh stop was the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, followed by a performance at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. She got paid £40 per show.
When asked by local press for her views on religion she commented: “Darlin’ religion is not just for fanatics and long-faced folk. Religion is a wonderful happy thing – an unhappy church is a dead church. When I go on stage my faith swells up inside me. I know that God is travelling with me wherever I go.” She also said that the colour bar operating in the US didn’t really affect her: “Everybody likes and loves me, you see, honey. Yes, even down in the South. They know by the way I sing the blues that I’ve suffered. I used to sing for my mother when she preached on the sidewalks. I was only 6. Sometimes we wondered when we’d eat next. Yes, darlin’, the atom bombs are terrible…. but so was the breadline back in the bad old days.”
While she was in Cardiff, Tharpe did a photo-shoot down the Docks. As you can see from the splendid picture above she is happily skipping through Loudon Square with some Tiger Bay street urchins.
*Photo ©Chris Ware/Getty Images