Guitar heroine

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1945 [Photo provided to China Daily]

For anyone who thought the evolution of rock 'n' roll had been comprehensively mapped out, the gradual unearthing of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's legacy has been akin to discovering, in the deepest of layers of the earth, the fossil of a modern human – and a woman in a vastly male-dominated field, at that.

Tharpe will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, in the category of Early Influences. She had a varied career in popular music from the 1920s to the '60s, but there are two main reasons she's being mounted on the wall at the Cleveland, Ohio-based museum. One is her direct and profound influence on America's rock 'n' rollers of the 1950s, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. The other is her newfound status as a guitar goddess – an improbable trailblazer for the distorted style that's usually credited to Jimi Hendrix.

"She's the first to have that distorted tone as a lead guitar player," explains Hong Kong-based guitarist Philip Emond, who showcases various guitar styles in his band, DJ Star. "She played a Gibson SG or a Les Paul with Humbucker pickups through those little pig-nose amps, which had a natural distortion. If a guitar player now were to get that sound, everybody would say, 'Wow, what a great tone.'"

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