Jazz Cafe: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

by Andrew Osmun

Last Friday was Jazz Night, when RJF member Robert Messore led a tour through the life and music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe —  known as The Godmother of Rock and Roll.  I was surprised to find unexpected connections: “Hey, Hey, My, My, Rock and roll will never die….” (Neal Young) and the Gospel proclaimed so wonderfully at St. John’s with one of the most amazing guitarists I was able to hear on stage (at Madison Square Garden before the pandemic hit), Eric Clapton.

You are wondering what on earth I’m talking about?  First, let me introduce myself.  My name is Andrew Osmun and I have been zooming in on Sunday, and gradually becoming more comfortable at St. John’s.  A retired priest in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, having been rector at St. Peter’s Milford for 11 years, have done supply work at Christ and the Epiphany in East Haven, St. Mark’s in Bridgeport, and am also Priest Affiliate at Christ Church, New Haven.  My background (long story) has led me to join the Racial Justice Fellowship and the Micah 6:8 commitment.

I knew nothing of Sister Rosetta – and joined the Zoom call more out of a desire to support Robert and the Fellowship.  I am so glad I did as I learned a lot about guitars (esp. National Steel and Paul Simon’s lyric in Graceland), listened to a great collection of Rosetta’s music that set my feet a tapping, my head a bobbing, and my spirits lifting.  I could see and hear the legacy of Sister Rosetta in the music that animated my growing up years, from Eric Clapton, to the Beatles and other British Invasion bands that took up the Blues, and still gets a listen today when I just need to binge listen to a couple of hours of Rock and Roll, distortion filled and shredding guitars.

Reflecting on the experience a few days later, I am so glad I joined the evening.  There is an element of sorrow – that Sister Rosetta was unknown to me after all those years listening to her musical progeny.  But an overwhelming gift of joy – to connect so deeply with this Sister, across the divides of race and gender, and know the gift and creativity of God had stirred this sluggish soul to life.  

Thank you RJF and Robert!

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