Tharpe, Sister Rosetta. (1915–1973)
Signed Photograph with Her Husband
Uncommon signed photograph of the pioneering gospel singer, songwriter, and guitarist ca. 1953. Tharpe, whose mixture of spiritual lyrics and electric guitar was an important early influence on rock and roll, has inscribed "May God / Bless / You / Always / Sister Rosetta Tharpe Morrison" in blue ink to the upper right portion of the image, which shows her seated and holding a Gretsch Anniversary model electric guitar while her manager and third husband, Russell Morrison, stands next to her with a cigarette in hand. General toning and a few small light stains, several creases and small tears, mostly to margins but with two extending slightly into the image, one just touching the word "May" at the start of the inscription. 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm.).
The present photograph was taken only a few years after Tharpe and Morrison's 1951 wedding, which took place in front of a paying audience of 25,000 people at Washington, D.C.'s Griffith Stadium. "Tharpe had been a recording artist for over a decade. She helped popularize gospel music and became widely notable for her guitar playing, emerging as one of the instrument's first real heroes. Her songs like "Rock Me" and "The Lonesome Road" would go on to have an undeniable impact on popular music, inspiring the likes of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lewis." But by the late 40s, her career had started to take a dip, and a public wedding was the perfect publicity stunt. The idea was encouraged by concert promoters who had been using D.C. area stadiums for massive evangelical religious events. They gave Tharpe one year to find a spouse, and there's little evidence to indicate how long she had known Morrison prior to their nuptials. The production took on a lavish scale; Tharpe's dress, purchased at a Richmond department store where she had previously been arrested for 'shopping while black,' cost $800, as much as a car at the time. "The legally binding wedding featured Tharpe's back-up singers as her bridesmaids and followed the ceremony with a live show for the audience." Tharpe and Morrison remained married until her death in 1973. (Brittany Spanos, "Flashback: Sister Rosetta Tharpe Stages Public Wedding at D.C.'s Griffith Stadium," Rolling Stone, February 17, 2021)