Author: Lewis, Kate G.
Title: Mothers and Sisters: Instrument and Idiom in the Music of Maybelle Carter, Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Institution: University of Surrey
Begun: October 2012
Completed: August 2018
This thesis contains a set of studies analysing the idiotechne, or individual playing style, of three pioneering female popular guitar players: Maybelle Carter (1909-1978); Memphis Minnie (1897-1973); and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973). The main aim of the thesis is to identify and examine how these seminal artists operated within, and contributed to, their respective genres and in so doing, expand the current field of idiotechne studies of guitarists in American popular music. An examination of these particular players will also contribute to a more comprehensive and gender-inclusive history of the instrument.
The study begins with a critical review of the relevant scholarly literature surrounding the popular guitar, an introduction to the main subjects, and a discussion of the analytical methods used within the study. The thesis offers a framework for popular guitar idiotechne analysis, based on Moore’s theories of idiolect identification (2005; 2012), in particular the assessment of a player’s interaction within, and beyond, their stylistic context. As such, the study of each player in this thesis is supported by relevant historical sources (Boyer 1979; Evans 1982; 2001; Heilbut 2002; Malone 2010), in order to demonstrate how these players operated within their styles, as well as introduced approaches that were later adopted within general guitaristic and musical practice.
The three main chapters of the thesis contain extensive technical analyses supported by original transcriptions. Key attributes for each player are identified and examined, including 1) Maybelle Carter’s modular comping patterns, integrated thumb-lead style, and melodic shadowing, 2) Memphis Minnie’s melodic mapping, master and seed riffs, and creative engagement with call-and-response, and 3) Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s active comping, master chords and riffs, and musical and performative gestures.
The final section of the thesis reviews the main findings of the project, and offers suggestions for further research.
Keywords: guitar, popular guitar analysis, maybelle carter, memphis minnie, sister rosetta tharpe