Most recently a nominee for Best New Artist at the 62nd Grammy Awards, Yola broke through in 2019 for her critically acclaimed debut “Walk Through Fire,” produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Yola joins a cast that includes Austin Butler as Elvis, Tom Hanks as manager Colonel Tom Parker, Rufus Sewell as Elvis’ father Vernon Presley and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Elvis’ mother Gladys Presley.
Tharpe, considered the godmother of rock and roll, was a major influence on early rock musicians like Elvis and Chuck Berry and country musicians like Johnny Cash. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Born in Arkansas in 1915, Tharpe was performing gospel music in church at age six. She married a preacher in her teens, then left him to move to New York City, where she played with Duke Ellington. She soon started touring with other gospel musicians and her 1944 single “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was the first gospel single to cross over on the Billboard race charts (now known as “R&B”).
“When you see Elvis Presley singing early in his career … imagine he is channeling Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” historian and Tharpe scholar Gayle Wald has said. “It’s not an image I think we’re used to thinking about when we think of rock and roll history — we don’t think about the black woman behind the young white man.”
“Sister Rosetta Tharpe was anything but ordinary and plain,” said Bob Dylan on his Theme Time Radio Hour show. “She was a big, good-lookin’ woman, and divine, not to mention sublime and splendid. She was a powerful force of nature. A guitar-playin’, singin’ evangelist.”
Luhrmann’s Elvis project will be his first film since his polarizing 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby.