Verve Label Group and UMe are proud to announce the induction of trailblazers Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Late pianist, singer and activist Simone will be inducted into the 2018 Performer Category alongside Bon Jovi, The Cars and The Moody Blues, while Tharpe, the late singer and guitarist known as the “godmother of rock and roll,” will be inducted into the hall’s Early Influences wing, joining such luminaries as Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Bessie Smith and Howlin’ Wolf. The 33rd Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony takes place April 14, 2018 at Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Known as the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone defies categorization. A pianist, singer, songwriter, composer and activist, she was one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation, an extraordinary artist of the twentieth century, an icon of American music. Rather than being confined to musical boundaries, she knew no bounds and fused jazz, blues, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, pop and showtunes with her classical roots, creating a rich tapestry filled with emotional honesty, spiritual depth and virtuosic musicianship.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone took to music at an early age and begun playing piano at three years old. After graduating valedictorian of her high school class, her community raised money for a scholarship for her to study classical piano at Julliard in New York City. She left after the money ran out and applied to the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where she was denied entrance, something Simone always felt was racially motivated. Determined to make a living playing music, she began to perform in bars in Atlantic City where she played jazz standards and was required to sing. Word quickly spread and at the age of twenty-four she scored her first record deal.
Simone recorded more than 40 albums, beginning in 1957 with her debut Little Girl Blue, featuring “I Loves You Porgy,” which became a Top 10 hit in the U.S. By the mid-1960s, Simone had become known as a main voice for the Civil Rights Movement as her music began to reflect the tumultuous times. She signed to Philips in 1964 at the age of 31 and experienced an exceptional purple patch that included seven albums in three years. Her first for the label, Nina Simone In Concert, captured some of Simone’s most committed Civil Rights-era material, including her explosive rendition of “Mississippi Goddam.” This period also saw her satisfy her relentlessly questing muse, with collections that focused on Broadway showtunes (Broadway-Blues-Ballads), pop material (I Put A Spell On You) and more, showing the full range of Simone’s talents. Pitchfork hailed these recordings, which include classics “Feeling Good,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “I Put A Spell On You,” “Sinnerman” and “Four Women,” as “some of the most important, moving documents of American history.”
Since her death in 2003, Simone’s influence, significance and cultural relevance has only grown, especially most recently as issues of race, police brutality and civil rights are once again at the forefront of the cultural conversation. The feature documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” — which won the 2016 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary —helped shine a new light on Simone’s immense talents and fearless activism, resulting in a new generation discovering her timeless music and indelible impact. Simone’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame serves as a recognition of her influence and contributions to the world of music.
Upon the news of her induction, Rolling Stone wrote, “no artist has been more overdue for recognition than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, adding, “A queer black woman from Arkansas who shredded on electric guitar, belted praises both to God and secular pleasures, and broke the color line touring with white singers, she was gospel’s first superstar, and she most assuredly rocked.” Born March 20, 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Tharpe defied expectations from an early age as a guitar prodigy. At six years old, her mother left her father to be a traveling evangelist and together they joined the exodus of poor black southerners heading north. They settled in Chicago where young Rosetta encountered the music that migrants had brought with them – blues from the Mississippi delta and jazz from New Orleans. She began performing gospel music as Little Rosetta Nubin with her mother at churches as part of a traveling Baptist roadshow. By the time she was in her 20s, she was a seasoned performer whose distinctive voice and unconventional style, filled with her signature feverish electric guitar playing, attracted many fans.
In 1938, Tharpe moved to New York, where she signed with Decca Records. That year she recorded four songs – “Rock Me,” “That’s All,” “The Man and I” and “The Lonesome Road” – which all became instant hits, establishing Tharpe as a household name and helping to bring gospel music to the mainstream. She remained a star through the ’40s and in 1945 her single, “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” became the first gospel single to cross over on the Billboard race (later called R&B) charts. In 1947, she gave 14-year-old Richard Penniman his first glimpse of the spotlight which made Little Richard decide to become a performer right then. In the ’50s massive audiences were flocking to see her perform in arenas.
“She was there before Elvis, Little Richard and Johnny Cash swiveled their hips and strummed their guitars,” NPR proclaimed in their feature of Tharpe earlier this year. “It was Tharpe, the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, who turned this burgeoning musical style into an international sensation… Through her unforgettable voice and gospel swing crossover style, Tharpe influenced a generation of musicians including Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry and countless others.” Without Sister Rosetta Tharpe, rock and roll would not be the same. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said, “She is the founding mother who gave rock’s founding fathers the idea,” declaring, “No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”