Rosetta Tharpe Respect: Elvis Biopic & Single Features Queen of Rock
I have a lot of reservations about watching the next one Elvis biopic of Baz Luhrmann. On the lighter side of things, Luhrmann’s movies are generally hit or miss to me. While I was enjoying Romeo and Juliet, Australiaand Gatsby the magnificent back when i was watching them (all when i was a teenager), i was trying Snape Mill for the first time, just before the pandemic, and was not a fan. It may seem like the end of the world to some people, but those are slight differences of opinion. However, Elvis Presley was good friends with Richard Nixon and started dating his future wife, Priscilla, when she was 14, and he (already famous) was a 24-year-old. That’s a hard “no” for me.
My long-standing frustration is that Elvis is getting into this big, glamorous movie when most people either don’t know or refuse to acknowledge that his popularity comes from playing “race music” (i.e. how black music was described then, and now it’s called urban music) as a young white man. Its success established a formula for cultural appropriation of black art in the age of mass media (specificity is important because some versions existed before). It would continue with the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and other boy bands, even until today. (Yes, I watch K-pop.)
Basically, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that I’ll probably wait for this movie to air to even decide whether or not to commit to it. This final decision will depend on the response from black critics, especially those who write about music history. That being said, something I learned last night gave me an extra ounce of optimism that Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be portrayed in the film to some degree and is honored in the main music video “Vegas” by Doja Cat.
Who is Sister Rosetta Tharpe?
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (aka Sister Rosetta Tharpe) was a gospel and blues singer whose rock star tours, expert guitar licks, and famous hits would be the foundation of rock ‘n roll music in the United States. United. and, later, the British scene. In the years leading up to her 1945 single “Strange Things Happening Every Day” (aka what is considered the first rock ‘n roll song), she played guitar battles at The Apollo, regularly beating men. One of his songs, “Hound Dog”, would decades later be recognized as one of Elvis’ greatest hits.
Although she is cited by so many musicians as an influential inspiration, she would be largely lost to history until the 2010s, when a must-see BBC documentary about her life was created. In 2018, Tharpe was posthumously inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2021, her story was shared on History of drunkenness in the UK
When I came across “Vegas” I immediately called Tharpe again. It seemed completely intentional, as the camera focused on the black woman repeating that phrase. It turns out that the woman who sings in the music video, Shoka Dukureh, will play Tharpe in the film.
As for the music video itself, it seems to follow Luhrmann’s style of mixing genre, style and time. Dukureh belts “You’re not a madman but a hunting dog” between Doja Cat’s raps about a player in a contemporary sense. “Vegas”, directed by child., from Little Minx, also does it with visuals. They could have sampled Tharpe and called it a day, but I loved the inclusion of Dukureh, which shows that these gospel traditions continue. Additionally, Dukureh got her first major performance credits in this movie and the Coachella performance.
While IMBD isn’t the end of the movie facts (especially before the movie’s release), it’s disturbing to see that only two black cast members (Kelvin Harrison Jr. as BB King and Alton Mason as Little Richard) do the top billing. I know it’s Elvis’ movie, but Elvis and his other inspirations just wouldn’t exist without it, and I hope they respect that.
(featured image: screenshot)
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