Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) was a groundbreaking gospel singer and musician, who paved the way for the popularity of rock ‘n’ roll and influenced Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, among many others.
Tharpe’s biographer, Gayle Wald, found some of the singer’s contemporaries who were willing to talk off the record about her bisexuality; one fellow musician claimed to have walked in on Tharpe and two other women in bed together during her “honeymoon tour” right after her third wedding in 1951.
Wald writes, “The circulation of this and other lore indicated that the gospel world had its own legends of outlaw identities and behaviors: of sissy men and bulldagger women, of philandering evangelists and pilfering prophets, of hypocrites who boozed up backstage before singing in front of the curtain about the virtues of holy living. For homosexuals in her audiences, rumors about Rosetta’s sexuality might have been liberating, an invitation to look for tell-tale signs of affirmation of their own veiled existence.”
Source: Gayle F. Wald, Shout Sister Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-n-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Beacon Press, 2007.