Gospel pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the subject of a new Cleveland Play House production.
The godmother of rock ‘n’ roll is finally getting her due. Type Sister Rosetta Tharpe into YouTube. She shreds electric guitar and sings with intensity. She’s fierce and confident and commands the stage — even after a leg amputation. Tharpe, whose 1940s output influenced Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, was finally nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. “When I stumbled across her, I felt it was a crime that she wasn’t more recognized,” says playwright George Brant. In Marie and Rosetta, which debuted off-Broadway in 2016 and opens Jan. 20 at Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre, Brant explores Tharpe’s relationship with Marie Knight, an unknown gospel singer she discovered and championed. The two became the ultimate duet, touring the U.S. and courting speculation of a romantic relationship. “They’re touring around the South at a time where they can’t stay in most hotels, they can’t eat in most restaurants,” Brant says. “These are some really determined, strong women whose stories need to be told.”