Arago: Exhibits

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The Roots of Gospel

32c Roberta Martin single

This stamp featuring a photograph of Roberta Martin was issued July 15, 1998.

32c Rosetta Tharpe single

This stamp featuring a photograph of Sister Rosetta Tharpe was issued July 15, 1998.

The invigorating sound of gospel music has inspired Americans for generations. Artists such as Roberta Martin and Sister Rosette Tharpe greatly influenced the creation of an American gospel tradition by contributing their unique voices to the genre.

Roberta Martin (1907-1969) is a prominent African American gospel singer that is most well known for her versions of “Amazing Grace” and “If you Pray.” In 1935 Martin started her legendary gospel group, the Martin-Frye Quartet. The quartet eventually changed their name to the Roberta Martin Singers, and the group was most well known for each singer having a distinctive voice in their songs. In addition to her successful singing career, Martin also founded the Roberta Martin Studio of Music, which produced and distributed sheet music for black churches across America.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) started her career in gospel music as a result of her upbringing in a very religious family. Tharpe’s mother was very active in their church, the Missionary in Church of God in Christ, and raised Sister Rosetta Tharpe in a strict religious environment. Despite her mother’s protective nature, Tharpe’s career as a singer and guitarist flourished and she eventually achieved national fame. Tharpe helped popularize gospel music by combining traditional gospel music with the sounds of jazz and swing. Her contributions to gospel music have made her one of the most influential gospel singers of the twentieth century.

The Postal Service acknowledged the contributions Roberta Martin and Sister Rosetta Tharpe have made to gospel music by including them in the American Music Series: Gospel Issue. The stamps were designed by Howard Paine and the ceremony was held at the New Orleans Superdome during the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship Conference.