The play, Shout Sister Shout, at the Pasadena Playhouse is a play to see if you like entertainment. However, it seems to miss the point of Rosetta Tharpe’s life.
I was raised as a child in the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) where Rosetta Tharpe’s mother was an Evangelist and Rosetta was a powerful inﬂuence on the life of the Black Pentecostal church.
It is probably hard to tell the life story of a person but to tell the story of an African American icon was distracting when, seemingly, told through the eyes of a white wannabe singer and guitar player (Isaiah, played by Logan Charles), one of the characters in the play.
Born Rosetta Nubin, she married Reverend Wilbur Thorpe and later changed her name to Tharpe. She was the daughter of COGIC Evangelist Katie Bell Nevin. The Church to this day does not ordain Women as preachers. Tharpe was one of the ﬁrst artists to perform crossover music with Jazz, Blues and Gospel. She was heavily criticized for her efforts. This allowed her the opportunity to appear at Carnegie Hall, the Cotton Club, and many other places with artists such as Benny Goodman, the Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway.
Missing in the play for me were her signature Gospel songs like “Didn’t it Rain…” and a depiction of her guitar playing which made her an enigma in the 1930’s and 1940’s as a guitar picking child performer and later as a woman. Her story is inspiring. The play is entertaining but only scratches the surface of her as a Black woman in the south playing a guitar and singing. The discrimination of the southern United States at the time is missing with one small reference to her bus which she travelled and slept in because as an African American, hotel accommodations were non-existent.
The cost of the play is well worth it as entertainment. The performance by the actors was superb. Also the play is inspiration for research for a rare talent, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
As a child I listened to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s songs. That inspirational resounding song, “Didn’t it Rain“, was not part of this play. Instead songs like “Long Skinny Papa” was played up as if it was Tharpe in disguise. I grievously missed that voice and Sister Tharpe’s Gospel songs that she sang in the “Good Olé’ Days”. We didn’t have a lot when I was a youngster but we had our music, including hers. This play seemed to minimize or take that away.
There are some things we aren’t giving away. You can take it but we will always have it in our hearts . You can’t take Sister Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, The Clark Sisters, Sam Cooke or the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Andre Crouch, Donnie Hathaway, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The O’Neal twins, and our local choirs that rock our churches every Sunday. That is our music that gave birth to so many artists, gospel and secular.
The music taught us and reminded us of what we learned in church and Sunday school lessons, like Shirley Caesar’s “Hold That Mule”, and “No Charge”, a song that my wife played for one of our sons when he said something about owing him something for a chore he had done. Some of the lines in the song says:
“For the nine months I carried you growing inside me there is no charge,
For the nights I sat up with you, doctored you, prayed for you, no charge.
For the time and tears and the costs through the years, there is no charge.
When you add it all up, the full cost of my love is no charge my son.” (Hear full song on U-TUBE)His response was, “Mom that’s a cold song”.
Those things are what we learned in church and gives you a glimpse of why I can’t stand gangster rap. When we were growing up, we thought it was wrong to be a gangster or run with and associate with gangsters. The Play made it clear they didn’t know what it was about to be raised COGIC. The music also helped to keep us out of trouble, for the most part, and in church learning the rules of a good Christian life.
Thank you Sister Rosetta!