JAC: Mirabile dictu—we’re having two contributions by Matthew Cobb today. But that is only meet since I’m reading his entire book to furnish him with a blub. (How about this one: “Life’s Greatest Secret is, in the end, no worse than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”?) Actually, the book is excellent and you should buy it. His first post is about music, and the next one will be about science: the new paper in Nature about the genetic constitution of the UK’s inhabitants.
by Matthew Cobb
Over at The Guardian, Richard Williams draws our attention to the fact that today, 20 March, is Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 100th birthday. Tharpe was a pioneering blues/gospel singer and guitarist – Williams (who knows about these things) calls her ‘the godmother of rock’n’roll’. If you want to know more about her career, here’s her Wikipedia entry.
She died in 1973, aged only 58. In 1998 the US mail commemorated her on a stamp:
Here’s a famous film of one of her concerts, which has a personal connection for me. In a UK concert from 1964, she played a fantastic version of ‘Didn’t it rain’ (being Manchester, it did). My sister Liz was in the audience! Note how she and the band start off in different keys, then she sorts it out and gives a stupendous performance:
Here’s the back story. In May 1964, a group of incredible blues and gospel singers, including Tharpe, Muddy Waters and the Reverend Gary Davis, toured the UK. On May 7th, they played a televised concert in Manchester, at a disused railway station called Wilbraham Road, in South Manchester. The station was jazzed up as some kind of caricature of a rural Deep South location, complete with hay bales, and was rebaptised ‘Chorltonville’ for the occasion (this has led to the widespread but mistaken belief, repeated by Williams, that the concert took place at the neighbouring station of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, which is the area of Manchester were I live; I have written a stern letter to The Guardian correcting this egregious error).
The concert was televised by Granada TV, who hired a special train to leave Central Station, not at quarter past nine, but at 7:30, and which took an audience of 200 or so young blues fans from the middle of Manchester out to Wilbraham Road. When they arrived at the station and piled off the train, there was Muddy Waters playing on the platform!
Here’s an extract from the 1964 TV programme, tajen from a recent BBC documentary, showing the train (dig the excitement of those cool kids), Muddy Waters, and the beginning of Sister Rosetta’s performance (NB it is mistakenly labelled 1963, and the commentator makes the same mistake about Chorlton…).
And for full atmosphere, here’s a scan of a ticket (not my sister’s, sadly, but taken from this site about disused UK railway stations…):
Here’s another, bluesy, number – Trouble in Mind – taken from the same concert, featuring some great guitar playing:
And what about this rocking version of Up Above My Head from the early 60s – listen to that guitar solo!
The BBC recently made a programme about her – I think made by Mick Csáky – which is going to be repeated tonight on BBC4. Here it is, in four bite-size Youtube chunks: