Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: My Journey To The Sky

I love this recording by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and although it predates my birth, it is worth inclusion here. Tharpe recorded “My Journey to the Sky” in 1948 and was released by Decca Records in the US and Brunswick in the UK as the flip side of “Up Above My Head.” The song features Sister Tharpe on lead vocals and a National Triolian guitar, Marie Knight on contralto harmony vocals, and the Sam Price Trio supplying the piano, bass, and drums.  I do a version of this song based on Sister Rosetta's arrangement.


Mistakenly, the label lists Sister Rosetta Tharpe as the author of the tune; however, she was not. The song was written by Dorothy Austin of the Austin Gospel Singers of Toledo, Ohio. Austin dedicated the song to her grandmother, Mrs. Belle F. Woods. It was published in 1944 by the Austin Studio of Gospel Music whose rights were administered by Martin and Morris of Chicago. This predates Tharpe’s recording by four years – and the earlier date would have been significant had any litigation occurred to prove that Austin and not Tharpe was the author.

There are several scenarios that could have caused the misidentification of the song’s author. One, Decca Records may have assumed that the tune was a Tharpe original and applied the credit incorrectly. Second, Sister Tharpe could have stolen the tune outright and misrepresented herself as the author. Third, Sister Tharpe heard the song and performed it for a period of several years and actually believed she had written it.

Her version deviates slightly from the Austin original and it appears that she had heard the song and began performing it in her own style. The truth on the misidentification will probably never be known. Although Sister Rosetta’s guitar is present, it is difficult to hear. It is a great gospel recording nonetheless and worthy for inclusion as a Spiritual Sunday selection. 






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