When Poetry is Music and Vice Versa…
even though she’s not here to enjoy it,
at least not able to attend the ceremony in person.
Nina Simone got in too.
I never thought of her as a rock singer,
but definitions are problematical.
Glad to have her in there too.
Sister Rosetta, I knew about somewhat,
but when she got elected I went over to YouTube,
where you can see just about anything
you might want to see, or so it seems.
If you type in, say, Robert Burns,
hoping to see him reciting in some Scottish tavern,
you won’t find him, though you will find plenty of people
reading and singing his poems. But Sister Rosetta Tharpe,
by the lucky accident of timing—my God, there she is,
playing her guitar, singing and swaying,
picking and strutting, her eyes flashing. That is joy.
Her stage presence, her style of singing,
visceral, theatrical, blues, gospel, wonderful.
Check out the one where she is playing
in a train station, in England, 1964.
She comes walking along wearing a long white coat
and high heal shoes, strolling with a handsome
young escort on her arm. She is about sixty.
When she comes to where her guitar is leaning,
she picks it up and plays on the rain-soaked platform
to the kids clapping along on the other side of the track
“Didn’t It Rain,” and then “Trouble in Mind.”
At one point after a riff she interjects,
“ Not bad for a woman—huh?”
entirely secure in her prowess.
In some of her solos you can hear Jimi Hendrix
getting ready to be born. I’d like to recommend
a few other songs in addition to those:
“This Train,” “That’s All,” “Up above My Head,”
and of course “Down by the Riverside.”
Up and down, up and down, up, and down.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is in the Hall of Fame,
not just the one in Cleveland, nice as the honor may be,
but the real one, the one made only of music and time.