Curious about Rosetta Tharpe? Already finished reading Shout, Sister, Shout? Interested in hosting a reading group meeting about the book?
The following questions can guide your personal reading or serve as prompts for group discussions. They are meant to spur your thinking. In most cases, there are no right or wrong answers here!
1. Throughout her career, Rosetta Tharpe attracted attention for breaching what some held as the strict separation of “sacred” and “secular” music. How did the binary between “church” and “popular” music affect Rosetta’s choices and her career?
2. Shout, Sister, Shout! asserts that many aspects of “rock and roll” sound and style have their roots in gospel music—specifically, in the sounds of black Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God in Christ. Do you agree with this assertion? If so, how does this affect your understanding of rock and roll? Of gospel music?
3. Shout, Sister, Shout! tells the story of an influential woman whose life and music largely have been neglected or forgotten. Is this true of other African American musicians, male or female? If so, how do you explain the erasure of these figures from popular music histories? How does “forgetting” happen?
4. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Rosetta Tharpe was arguably better received in Europe (especially England and France ) than in the United States . How does Shout, Sister, Shout! explain the overseas reception of gospel in general and Rosetta in particular? What attracted European audiences to Rosetta Tharpe? How, on the other hand, did Rosetta Tharpe respond to her popularity abroad?
5. How did racial segregation-both within the music industry and in U.S. society generally-affect Rosetta Tharpe’s career? How would you characterize her responses to social injustices?
6. Rosetta Tharpe’s life was shaped by social-class tensions within African American communities. Give some examples of how these tensions manifested themselves in Rosetta’s career. For example, why did some African Americans in the early part of the 20th century object to the style of Sanctified churches?
7. Why did some people say Rosetta Tharpe played guitar “like a man”? What does it mean to play “like a man”? Can women play “like” men? Can men play “like” women? Is playing “gendered”? What assumptions-about musical virtuosity, gender, guitar playing-lie behind notions of playing “like a man”?
8. What different sources does Wald draw on to tell the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe? How do the sources affect the storytelling? Which sources are most compelling?
9. The life of Rosetta Tharpe was not well documented, at least in conventional terms. How does the author handle gaps of information in her storytelling? When she is relying on oral history (interviews with living people), how does she handle moments when different sources disagree?
10. Wald begins Chapter 1 with the story of Rosetta Tharpe’s birth on a farm in Cotton Plant, Arkansas , framing the birth within the context of racial segregation and rural poverty. How effective is this opening? What other events might have been used to open the book?
11. Listen closely to a few of the songs discussed in detail in the book (e.g., “Rock Me,” “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” “Didn’t It Rain,” “Precious Memories”). What instruments do you hear? Describe Rosetta Tharpe’s vocal performance. (You might consider her phrasing, her enunciation of words and phrases, her use of vocal techniques such as vibrato; or, if the song is a duet with Marie Knight, consider the relationship between the two voices.) How would you characterize the tempo of the song? the mood of the song? the interplay between voice(s) and instruments?
12. Watch a video clip of Rosetta Tharpe singing and playing guitar. What kind of “personality” or “image” does she project? How would you describe the way she plays the guitar? The way she communicates with her audience?
Suggestions for further reading:
On Gospel Music
• Horace Clarence Boyer, with photography by Lloyd Yearwood, The Golden Age of Gospel (1995; reprint Urbana and Chicago : Univ. of Illinois Press , 2000).
• Michael W. Harris, The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).
• Anthony Heilbut, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, 25th Anniversary Edition (New York: Limelight Editions, 1997).
• Jerma A. Jackson, Singing in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age ( Chapel Hill , N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2004).
• Bernice Johnson Reagon, ed., We’ll Understand It Better By and By (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992).
On African Americans and Sanctified religion
• Lawrence W. Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977).
• C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1990).
• The Sanctified Church: The Folklore Writings of Zora Neale Hurston (Berkeley: Turtle Island, 1981).
On Black Women and Music
• Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Pantheon, 1998), 3-41.
• Etta James and David Ritz, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (New York: Da Capo Press, 1995).
• Sherrie Tucker, Swing Shift: All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (Durham : Duke Univ. Press, 2000).
• Say Amen, Somebody, dir. George T. Nierenberg, 198.