By Brian M. Reiser
Published on March 17, 2017
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: March 20, 1915
Here at Keeping the Blues Alive we like rebels, and there’s no Gospel Blues singer with more of a rebellious spirit than Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Although Ms. Tharpe was first and foremost a Gospel singer, she was also a major influence in both Rhythm & Blues and Rock and Roll. Tharpe, a singer, songwriter, and child prodigy on the guitar, with her distinct brand of Gospel music became popular during the 1930’s and into the 1940’s as open-minded audiences were turned onto her unique blending of the secular and the sacred. The list of musicians who were significant influence by her sound – Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis – is a veritable who’s who of rock and roll and rockabilly pioneers. And although many of them had spiritual flourishes to their music and even some religious-oriented songs, it’s still the blues elements of Tharpe’s music that become of primary importance.
Tharpe was an adventurous spirit and pioneer, willing to bring the sacredness of her Gospel music into the sinful halls of nightclubs and big band concert halls. And although her pioneering blend of Gospel with Rock and Roll elements did offend and alienate the more conservative members of her fan base, she always remained true to her Gospel roots and spirit. “Down by the Riverside.” a hit for Rosette Tharpe in 1944, was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in 2004. Her tune, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was the first Gospel tune to cross over onto the “Race Records” chart – the proto-chart for the future Rhythm & Blues chart – hitting #2. This record has been claimed to be a significant precursor to rock and roll. In 2007 she was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Marcia Ball: March 20th, 1949
Marcia Ball, born in Texas and raised in Louisiana, is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, and pianist. She has received numerous awards for both her vocal abilities and her masterful keyboard skills. Ball has been praised for blending blues styles from both Louisiana and Texas. This has enabled her to craft her own unique sound. Her music fuses elements of boogie-woogie, swamp blues, and zydeco. She has worked extensively with New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas. Thomas has been the primary influence on Ball as a vocalist. Marcia Ball won the “Pinetop Perkins Piano Player” award at the 2015 Blues Music Awards. Her last album was released in 2014 called The Tattooed Lady & The Alligator Man (Alligator Records). Among her most notable songs is the uptempo dance beat heavy rave up “The Party’s Still Going On” as well as the moody, bar room ballad “Falling Back in Love with You.”
Jimmie Vaughan: March 20, 1951
Jimmie Vaughan is a blues rock singer and guitarist most well known for his work with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He helped to put the gritty and electrified blues of Texas on the map beginning in the late 1960’s. By 1974, he founded his new band, the previously mentioned Thunderbirds. The band was fronted by the great Kim Wilson on harmonica and vocals. It featured a variety of different members over the years including another great blues guitarist in Kirk Fletcher. The Fabulous Thunderbirds crossed over into the mainstream with a #10 hit on the Billboard charts called “Tuff Enuff.” This was no small feat for a blues band.
Jimmie would ultimately leave The Fabulous Thunderbirds to play in a duo with his brother, the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. However, after Vaughan’s tragic passing in 1990, Jimmie Vaughan decided to pursue music as a solo artist. His 2001 set Do You Get the Blues? took home the coveted Grammy Award for “Traditional Blues Album.” Recently, he played as a guest on an episode of Austin City Limits with the modern alternative rock band The Foo Fighters, once again helping to bring the blues into the mainstream spotlight.
Jimmie Vaughan currently has several tour dates scheduled, including one at New York City’s great room of rock music, Madison Square Garden. There he will be performing along with Eric Clapton and Gary Clark Jr.
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