“When you hear that rock and roll thing, it really kind of comes from her”: A lost and previously unheard live recording of rock ’n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe is being released for Record Store Day

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
(Image credit: Tony Evans/Getty Images)

A lost recording of Sister Rosetta Tharpe playing live in Limoges, France, in 1966 has been recovered and restored by Zev Feldman, the so-called ‘Indiana Jones of Jazz’, who is releasing a deluxe double-album of the 21-song set.

A Record Store Day limited edition double-LP will drop on 20 April, with a double-CD release arriving on 26 April, both coming via Feldman’s imprint, Deep Digs, in partnership with Elemental Music. 

Both releases will be feature archive photography and extensive liner notes, with an essay from Gayle Wald, who wrote the 2008 biography of the rock ’n’ roll pioneer, Shout, Sister Shout!, and fellow Tharpe biographer Jean Buzelin’s notes on her tours in France during the ‘60s.

There will also be testimony from some of the next generations of guitarists whom Tharpe influences, with the likes of Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Gibbons and Brian Ray sharing their thoughts on Tharpe’s playing and legacy.

“Sister Rosetta Tharpe was such a beautiful light and for her to have such faith in her music and her spirit and no doubt to see a lot of darkness, there's a lot to be learned from that,” wrote Tedeschi. “I think there’s a lot to learn from an artist like her who started doing it at five or six years old and then did it throughout her whole career and really had a passion for it. She just had a God-given gift.” 

Both will feature a lot of music. Tharpe’s set of 11 November 1966, at the Grand Theater in Limoges is an essential rock ’n’ roll document, a comprehensive showcase for her ability to take soul and gospel and run a live current through them, reworking traditional arrangements for electric guitar and turning them rock ’n’ roll – see Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air for how this sounded in practice.

“Sister Rosetta was the first guitar heroine of rock and roll,” wrote Wald. “Her heartfelt gospel folksiness gave way to her roaring mastery of her trusty Gibson Les Paul Custom, which she wielded on a level that rivalled the best of her male contemporaries.”

Bonnie Raitt is in full agreement, and said that it was long overdue that Tharpe received wider recognition for her influence on rock ’n’ roll guitar.

“Rosetta was one of the most beloved and influential artists ever in gospel music,” she wrote. “She blazed a trail for the rest of us women guitarists with her indomitable spirit and accomplished, engaging style. She has long been deserving of wider recognition and a place of honour in the field of music history.”

As Tedeschi noted, you can hear Tharpe’s influence in the first generation of rock ’n’ roll guitar players, “from Little Richard to Elvis Presley, to Clapton, to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis”. 

The performance was recorded on the night by the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (ORTF), but was lost and all but forgotten until Feldman found it seven years ago while prospecting for pop-cultural gold in the archives of the INA (Institut national de l’audiovisuel). 

“Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been a towering and trailblazing figure in music even decades and decades after her passing in 1973, and her influence is still being felt to this day,” said Feldman. “This recording has never been released before and I consider it a very special time capsule of a document that transports you back to a wonderful performance in the mid-1960s in France.”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Live in France: The 1966 Limoges Concert tracklisting

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Live in France: The 1966 Limoges Concert album cover

(Image credit: Deep Digs/Elemental Music)

 LP 1 / SIDE A

1. This Train (4:25) – R. Tharpe
2. When My Life Work Is Ended (3:45) – W.W. Harris, A.J. Bell                
3. Didn't It Rain (1:49) – Trad. - arr. R. Tharpe
4. Mother’s Prayer (5:26) – J.W. Van de Venter 


1. Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air (Trad. - arr. R. Tharpe) (2:20)
2. Moonshine (2:52) - R. Tharpe
3. Sit Down (2:23) – N. Sherman - J. Keller                                             
4. Down by the Riverside (3:33) – Trad.                                                  
5. When The Saints Go Marching In (2:23) – Trad. - arr. R. Tharpe          
6. Joshua Fought The Battle of Jericho (2:18) – Trad. - arr. R. Tharpe                                                    


1. Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (4:29) – J.W. Alexander, K. Morris   
2. Two Little Fishes, Five Loaves of Bread (2:41) – B. Hanighen                          
3. Traveling Shoes (3:19) – Traditional                                                                           
4. Beams of Heaven (2:55) – C.A. Tindley                                                                      
5. That's All / Denomination Blues (2:58) – R. Tharpe, W. Phillips
6. Going Home (2:40) 


1. Go Ahead (3:12) – C. Jeter                                                                                        
2. Bring Back Those Happy Days (3:11) – R. Tharpe                               
3. Give me That Old Time Religion (2:04) – Traditional                                                    
4. If Anybody Above Me (1:48) – M. Kenney
5. Nobody's Fault But Mine (4:26) – Traditional               

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.