The Reverend and the Sister

thThere are blues artists who do a few spirituals such as Charley Patton, Willie McTell and Sonny & Brownie. Others are known for their spirituals but also did some blues along the way. Two examples in this second category are Reverend Gary Davis and Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Reverend Gary Davis has been described as

a towering figure in at least two realms.

As a finger-style guitarist he developed a complex yet swinging approach to picking that has influenced generations of players, including Jerry Garcia, Ry Cooder, Dave Van Ronk, Jorma Kaukonen and Stefan Grossman. And as a composer of religious and secular music he created a substantial body of work that has been recorded by, among others, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Peter Paul & Mary and the Grateful Dead, not to mention Davis’s own releases.

From the perspective of his one hundredth birthday (April 30, 1896 in Laurens, South Carolina — he died on May 5, 1972 in Hammonton, New Jersey), the Davis legacy looms especially large. Early musical experiences at Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court, South Carolina, were at the core of strong religious convictions that helped him cope with blindness, and in 1933 he was ordained as minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church in Washington, North Carolina. For years he toured as a singing gospel preacher and also sang on the streets, mostly in Durham. During this period he crossed paths and eventually recorded with Blind Boy Fuller and other “Piedmont style” musicians, including Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.

This first clip is not for the faint of heart: Death Don’t Have No Mercy.

For a closer look at his guitar work here’s a rag.

Sister Rosetta disregarded convention and expectations:

on December 23, 1938, Tharpe performed in John Hammond’s SRTharpefamous Spirituals to Swing Concert at Carnegie Hall. Her performance was controversial and revolutionary in several respects. Performing gospel music in front of secular audiences and alongside blues and jazz musicians was highly unusual, and within conservative religious circles the mere fact of a woman performing guitar music was frowned upon. Musically, Tharpe’s unique guitar style blended melody-driven urban blues with traditional folk arrangements and incorporated a pulsating swing sound that is one of the first clear precursors of rock and roll. The performance shocked and awed the Carnegie Hall audience. [source]

Here’s the Sister in England during the Blues Revival with Trouble in Mind:

Here she is in Germany with a fine back up band doing That’s All and Didn’t it Rain?.

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