True Colors Theatre Company’s ‘Marie and Rosetta’ celebrates the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll and her protégé

“Marie and Rosetta” kicks of the True Color’s 2021/22 new season.

True Colors Theatre Company

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was considered by many as the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll. Her pioneering mixture of bluesy rock guitar and spiritual soul singing formed a crucial foundation for a music style that would lead to acolytes like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Her story, including her protégé gospel singer Marie Knight, plays out on the theater stage in “Marie and Rosetta,” a musical production coming to Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. The show marks the company’s return to live performance at Atlanta Southwest Arts Center from Nov. 30 – Dec. 30. Jamil Jude is the artistic director of True Colors, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about the production and True Colors’ new season of upcoming shows.

Interview highlights:

Why this play, why now?

“Part of the thing that has been keeping us hopeful throughout the pandemic with all of the ups and downs of the last, what, twenty-something months, has been this production,” said Jude. “What excited us most about it was not just the opportunity to celebrate Sister Rosetta Tharpe and inform more people about her amazing story, but we wanted to put a Black woman design team around it. From the music director, the props designer, the seating designer, the costume designer, all supported by Black women because, in the American theater, that just doesn’t happen enough.”

“We knew that this show really crystallizes True Colors’ mission to celebrate Black storytelling, but also continue to prove to American theater that those that have been historically excluded have important stories to tell, and can tell them with love and artistic excellence.”

Who was Rosetta Tharpe? 

“You see this virtuosity in her guitar playing. You go, ‘Oh, I understand now why Elvis Presley or Jimi Hendrix credits her as being an inspiration,’’ said Jude.

“She was a Northern Black woman but played and had a lot of audiences in the South, and speaking to experiencing Jim Crow, while she’s entertaining the masses, having to hire white bus drivers to drive her around inside these Southern towns, because getting stopped was a potential risk of her life.” He continued, “I think even here in the present, we recognize that it’s an unsafe thing sometimes, unfortunately, to exist inside of a Black body and travel here in the South.”

“The fact that she was doing it here in the 1930s and 1940s and still selling out shows, topping record chats, and being an inspiration, albeit unknown to her, to so many other artists, it’s a story of perseverance, of doing something that you believe in and knowing that it will have a legacy.”

The remarkable friendship and personal growth in ‘Marie and Rosetta’:

“’It puts us really at the beginning of their relationship and their partnership. We see Sister Rosetta Tharpe really at the peak of her career, as a very talented artist, who knows what she knows, knows how talented she is. And Marie being introduced, we get to meet her as an under-confident young performer who is in awe, kind of in this youthful awe of Rosetta Tharpe,” said Jude.

“Rosetta desired for Marie to be seen as an equal, and as ‘Marie and Rosetta, Rosetta and Marie,’ where Marie initially was like, ‘Oh, I’m just playing back-up,” Jude said. “There are certain phrases and words that audiences will have a chance to experience over the course of this run that will resonate. And this idea of someone empowering you and saying, ‘You’re not my back-up,’ just how powerful that is, when we talk about ‘chosen family,’ when we talk about building community… it puts a smile on my face.”

“Rosetta Tharpe lived her life as an out lesbian woman, and that was a difficult thing to manage in the 40’s, and still today is difficult for some people. But through the partnership with Marie, you find more comfort in being who you are,” said Jude. “[Marie] is initially presented as demure and a church mouse, and over the course of the play, you get to see her grow more into who she will ultimately become over the course of her life. I think that is an important story that I don’t want people to gloss over, is that through the people that we bring into our lives, and the community we can build around ourselves, we all have an opportunity to stand up a little bit taller, move our shoulders back, and find a community that will accept us for who we are.”

True Colors Theatre Company presents ‘Marie and Rosetta’ at Atlanta Southwest Arts Center from Nov. 30 – Dec. 30. Tickets and more information are available at