STEADY, by Dan Rather.
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a trailblazer, a virtuoso on the electric guitar who influenced both Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Born in rural Arkansas, Tharpe was raised in the Pentecostal Church. Gospel music was her foundation and she became a superstar in that genre.
But Tharpe was an original who couldn’t be confined by any one musical style. And in doing so, she helped define a new music. Tharpe is often called the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.”
Tharpe was a celebrity throughout the 1940s, 50s, and into the 1960s, even as she faced the racial animosities and struggle of segregated America. She also endured gossiping about her sexuality. Eventually, Tharpe’s star faded. She died after a stroke in 1973 at the age of 58.
When people talk about the origins of rock and roll, Tharpe’s name is far too rarely mentioned. When people debate who were some of the greatest guitarists of all time, Tharpe is almost always overlooked. Well we can start to change that today, and hopefully smile a bit, by basking in the joy of this uniquely talented musician.
In 2018, Tharpe was inducted posthumously to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which tells her story like this:
In the fall of 1938, when she stepped out onto the storied stage of the Cotton Club, Rosetta Tharpe did what no performer sprung from the rich musical traditions of black Pentecostalism had ever previously dared, or perhaps even imagined. She presented the music of her church to a predominantly white audience in search of Saturday-night diversion, not Sunday-morning deliverance.”
Thank you, Dan Rather, for this Saturday smile. :)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1960.
“A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.”
The three-time Grammy winner released just eight albums before walking away from the spotlight in 1985, but he left an incredible mark on the music community and the world at large. Songs like “Lean On Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lovely Day” are embedded in the culture and have been covered countless times. While many of Withers’ biggest songs were recorded in the Seventies, they have proven to be timeless hits. “Lean on Me” emerged once again in recent weeks as an anthem of hope and solidarity in the time of COVID-19.
He had to endure incredible racism in the Jim Crow South. “One of the first things I learned, when I was around four,” he said, “was that if you make a mistake and go into a white women’s bathroom, they’re going to kill your father.”
Looking back decades later, Withers was still amazed at his success at a relatively late age in his life. “Imagine 40,000 people at a stadium watching a football game,” he told Rolling Stone. “About 10,000 of them think they can play quarterback. Three of them probably could. I guess I was one of those three.”
In 2015, he made a rare public appearance when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I still have to process this,” he said shortly after learning the news.
Rush Drummer Neil Peart died on January 7th at the age of 67.
“Peart’s love of literature and reverence for history deeply informed his songwriting. “Red Sector A,” for example, emerged after he read accounts of World War II concentration camp survivors. “Manhattan Project” addresses the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, from multiple viewpoints. For much of Rush’s career, Peart was also dogged by long-ago praise for the author Ayn Rand, whose works were an influence on the sprawling 1976 song cycle 2112. (He later clarified that Rand’s work no longer resonated with him.)
In a 2015 Rolling Stone cover story, Peart self-described as a “bleeding-heart libertarian.”And, above all, his lyrics made people think — Rush fans were liberal, conservative, religious, non-religious — but they all united around their respect for the band and their admiration for how Neil could articulate their experiences, or give them a new way to look at an issue.”
In no small part because of his erudition, Peart’s erudition earned him the nickname “The Professor.” It was apt: Carrying himself with an air of well-spoken authority, he possessed knowledge about a variety of topics, owing to his extensive global travels — on Rush tours, he was known for taking off on bicycle rides and, later, would hop on his motorcycle to travel between gigs — and a voracious curiosity about the world around him. In his 2002 book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, he described going to art museums in the afternoons before Rush concerts “to feed my growing interest in paintings, art history, and African carvings.”
While an interesting travelogue, at its root Ghost Rider was a chronicle of how to repair a shattered self. The book details how Peart embarked on a solo motorcycle trek “to try to figure out what kind of person I was going to be, and what kind of world I was going to live in” after his 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died in a 1997 car crash, and his wife Jackie passed due to cancer the following year.
All told, Peart released seven nonfiction books, several fiction collaborations and poured out thousands more words via his personal website. “What made Neil such a good writer is how much he loved to read,” Halper says. “He really loved and respected books. He loved good literature — he and I sat around one night talking Shakespeare — he loved poetry, he loved philosophy. He valued good conversation. He was a thinker — in the truest sense of the word.”
As any Rush fan will share, air-drumming to 1981’s “Tom Sawyer” can be one of life’s greatest pleasures.
[Excerpt from ‘Remembering Neil Peart, A Monster Drummer With A Poet’s Heart’, by NPR’s Annie Zaleski.]
A favorite quote from Bob Dylan, taken from a 1978 Rolling Stone interview: “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?”
Rush was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.