By George Brant | Directed by Sandra L. Holloway
Music Direction by e'Marcus Harper
Featuring Ayana Reed (as Marie Knight) and Roz White (as Sister Rosetta Tharpe)
At the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Lang Theatre
August 22–September 30, 2018


Bringing fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music that would become a rhythmic precursor to rock and roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer of mid-20th-century music with a huge influence on Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, and Ray Charles. Set in the showroom of a funeral home, in Mississippi, 1946, this musical celebration of two extraordinary Black Women chronicles the unlikely first rehearsal between Rosetta and the prim young, Marie Knight, to see if the potential protégée could summon the stuff to allow for a professional partnership that might topple the male stranglehold suppressing Rosetta's career. They would embark on a tour to establish them as one of the great duos in musical history. (Runtime: 100 minutes, no intermission.)   


“White and Reed … brought goosebumps to my goosebumps”

Maryland Theater Guide

“ This show is a spectacular struck gold on every level.”

 Bill Grimmette 

“It’s a pleasure to hear White unwind a hymn or a gospel tune and roll into gutbucket blues; she’s a rock-solid singer.”

The Washington Post

“These ladies can sing. Like the women they are embodying, White and Reed’s voices seem to defy easy categorization, crossing belt-y gospel with rhythmic rock with more wandering blues.


“This play with music featuring phenomenal performances by four black women is so enrapturing and overwhelming in soul sisterhood and singing power, it leaves one speechless.”

DC Metro Theater Arts 



Wednesday, August 22 at 8 PM

Thursday, August 23 at 8 PM (post-show discussion)

Friday, August 24 at 8 PM

Saturday, August 25 at 8 PM

Sunday, August 26 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)


Monday, August 27 at 7:30 PM


Wednesday, August 29 at 8 PM

Thursday, August 30 at 8 PM (post-show discussion)

Friday, August 31 at 8 PM

Saturday, September 1 at 3 PM

Saturday, September 1 at 8 PM

Sunday, September 2 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Wednesday, September 5 at 8 PM

Thursday, September 6 at 8 PM (post-show discussion)

Friday, September 7 at 8 PM

Saturday, September 8 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Saturday, September 8 at 8 PM

Sunday, September 9 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Sunday, September 9 at 7:30 PM

Wednesday, September 12 at 8 PM

Thursday, September 13 at 11 AM (post-show discussion)

Thursday, September 13 at 8 PM

Friday, September 14 at 8 PM

Saturday, September 15 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Saturday, September 15 at 8 PM

Sunday, September 16 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Wednesday, September 19 at 8 PM

Thursday, September 20 at 8 PM (post-show discussion)

Friday, September 21 at 8 PM (post-show discussion)

Saturday, September 22 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Saturday, September 22 at 8 PM

Sunday, September 23 at 3 PM (post-show discussion)

Sunday, September 23 at 7:30 PM

Wednesday, September 26 at 8 PM

Thursday, September 27 at 11 AM (post-show discussion)

Thursday, September 27 at 8 PM

Friday, September 28 at 8 PM

ASL Interpreted Performance, Open Captioned Performance

Saturday, September 29 at 3 PM

ASL Interpreted Performance, Open Captioned Performance

(ASL-Interpreted post-show discussion)

Saturday, September 29 at 8 PM

Open Captioned Performance

Sunday, September 30 at 3 PM




Ayana Reed


Ayana Reed (Marie) is excited to make her Mosaic Theater Company debut. A native of Washington DC, she showcases versatility through performances such as an opera debut in Italy in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to starring in the Helen Hayes nominated blues musical Blackberry Daze which garnered her rave reviews from The Washington Post. Her performance skills were developed and nurtured at the renowned Duke Ellington School of the Arts high school and the Friends of Carter Barron Performing Arts Foundation, landing her on stages as prestigious as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Theatre. Her credits include: 110 in the Shade (Theatrical Outfit; Atlanta, GA), The Gospel at Colonus (WSC Avant Bard Theatre), The Very Last Days of the First Colored Circus (Restoration Stage) Blackberry Daze (Horizon Theatre Company; Altanta, GA), Master Class, Blackberry Daze (Metrostage). B.A. from George Mason University. A special thank you to Vera J. Katz and Tonia Jackson for preparing me for this role. Keep up with Ayana on Instagram @ayanareed_ and online at    

Roz White


Roz White (Sister Rosetta Tharpe) is excited to make her debut with Mosaic Theater Company in this amazing production. Roz White is an award-winning Actress, Vocalist, and Teaching Artist. Roz is a graduate of The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where she currently serves as a faculty member, and Howard University, where she has lectured and taught master classes since 2006. While studying at Howard University, Roz was crowned Miss Howard ’92 and Miss Collegiate African American ‘93- representing 52 Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the US. Roz’s theatre credits include Dreamgirls (National Tour), Bessie’s Blues (Studio Theatre -Helen Hayes Award Winner) Once On This Island (Actor’s Theatre of Louiville), Crowns (Indiana Rep), Don’t Stop The Carnival (Coconut Grove Playhouse), Three Sistahs, Cool Papa’s Party, Ella Fitzgerald- First Lady of Song, Josephine Tonight, Bricktop, Uprising, Blackberry Daze (MetroStage), Billie’s Song, Black Nativity (The Kennedy Center), Blues in the Night(Arena Stage) Gee’s Bend (MetroStage- Helen Hayes Award Nomination), Her self-penned cabarets-‘Pearl Bailey by Request’ (Milwaukee Rep)  and ‘Resist: A Revolutionary Cabaret’ (Signature Theatre) Mahalia A Gospel Musical (St. Louis Black Rep),  Anne and Emmett (DeLaMar Theatre-Amsterdam), Black Pearl Sings and The Gin Game (MetroStage). Roz has worked as a featured vocalist with Yolanda Adams, Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Patti Austin, The Late Gerald Levert, Ray Charles, and Michael Jackson…She studied musical theatre with the renowned Mike Malone and acting with the legendary Vera Katz. Roz is the proud Mom of two brilliant sons, Anthony and King.  



All discussions are free and open to the public and begin immediately following the listed performance time

Thursday, August 23 at 8 PM

First Feedback
with Ari Roth, Mosaic Artistic Director, and Shirley Serotsky, Mosaic Resident Dramaturg

Sunday, August 26 at 3 PM

Talkback with the Creative Team

with Ari Roth, Sandra L. Holloway, Director, and e’Marcus Harper-Short, Musical Director

Thursday, August 30 at 8 PM

 In Conversation

with Memphis Gold, legendary blues artist who played on stage with Sister Rosetta 

Sunday, September 2 at 3 PM

Rosetta’s Crossover Impact—The Deep Roots of Rock and Roll and Folk

With Kip Lornell (Music Department, George Washington University), Raynetta Wiggins (Manager of Choir Curriculum and Performance, Washington Performing Arts), and Mosaic Board Members James Early and Stephen Stern 

Thursday, September 6 at 8 PM

The Boys Own the Band: Women Breaking Through in the Music Business.

With Rebecca Cohen, Mosaic, Manager of Institutional Giving; Jenny Thomas, Bassist/backing vox for DC pop-punk band Ménage À Garage

Saturday, September 8 at 3 PM

Black Church Meets the Nightclub — the Performing Style of Rosetta.

With NJ Mitchell, Mosaic Board Member 

Sunday, September 9 at 3 PM

Did a Queer Black Woman Invent Rock and Roll?

With Gayle Wald (George Washington University and author of Shout, Sister, Shout!); Johnny Fantastic (Lead Singer, Stronger Sex); Asha Santee (Singer/drummer for Peace & Body Roll Duo BOOMscat)

 Thursday, September 13 at 11 AM

Cast Talkback

moderated by Victoria Murray Baatin, Associate Artistic Director 

Saturday, September 15 at 3 PM

Race and Rock and Roll: Whitewashing of Black Musical History

With Paige Muller, Mosaic Theater Company's Programming Coordinator; Rex (DC Punk and Soul Musician); Maya Cunningham (Ethnomusicologist and Cultural Activist); Dr. Saïs Kamalidiin (Executive Director, Howard University Center for Ethnomusicology)

Sunday, September 16 at 3 PM

Guitar, Piano and Voice—The Musical Dynamics of Rosetta and Marie

with Rebecca Cohen and Dr. Saïs Kamalidiin, Executive Director at Howard University Center for Ethnomusicology 

Thursday, September 20 at 8 PM

The DC Angle—Rosetta’s Griffith Stadium Wedding Extravaganza

With Gayle Wald (George Washington University and author of Shout, Sister, Shout!); Shellée M. Haynesworth (Executive Producer/Creator, Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project); and Stephen Stern (Mosaic Board Member) ​

Friday, September 21 at 8 PM

Rayceen and Roz, In Conversation 

With Rayceen Pendarvis (Team Rayceen) and Roz White (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

Saturday, September 22 at 3 PM

Women Trailblazers in Popular Music

with Sunny Sumter (Executive Director of the DC Jazz Festival), Maya Cunningham (Ethnomusicologist and cultural activist, University of MD), and Ruth Tyson (Girls Rock DC); facilitated by Shirley Serotsky (Mosaic Resident Dramaturg)

Sunday, September 23 at 3 PM

Gospel and the Blues: The Sacred Meets the Secular in African-American Music

With Rebecca Cohen (Mosaic Manager of Institutional Giving); Deborah Hansleman (Folklorist and Mosaic Business Manager); Maya Cunningham (Ethnomusicologist and Cultural Activist); Dr. Saïs Kamalidiin (Executive Director, Howard University Center for Ethnomusicology) ​

Thursday, September 27 at 11 AM

Cast Talkback

moderated by Victoria Murray Baatin, Associate Artistic Director

Saturday, September 29 at 3 PM




Notes from the Mosaic Dramaturg

“Strange Things” Indeed, or, Did a Queer Black Woman Really Invent Rock and Roll? - Shirley Serotsky

Around the turn of the last millennium, the world seemed to take collective notice of musician and singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s genius, and of her rightful, though often unacknowledged, place in the history of popular music. In 1998, almost eighty-five years after her birth (and exactly twenty-five years after her premature death at the age of 58) the US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp featuring her portrait. She was welcomed into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2007; later that year music scholar and George Washington University professor Gayle Wald published her first dedicated biography, Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. In 2008 Tharpe’s unmarked grave in Philadelphia finally received a headstone, funded through a benefit concert organized by fans and featuring an epitaph that read, “She would sing until you cried and then she would sing until you danced for joy. She helped to keep the church alive and the saints rejoicing.” She has recently received a stunning musical tribute from singer and violinist Rhiannon Giddens of “The Carolina Chocolate Drops,” who covered several of her best-known songs on her latest album; media acknowledgement in a PBS American Masters Documentary; and overdue historical recognition, with her long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

Where was Sister Rosetta Tharpe during the twenty-five years between her death and her unexpected resurgence? Be assured: she was posthumously busy, inspiring, influencing, and awing the next generation of artists. We know this because everyone from Chuck Berry to Little Richard to Elvis to Johnny Cash to Bonnie Raitt to Rosanne Cash has credited her signature style--a blend of blues, jazz, gospel, and a new sound with more grit and edge than anything that had been heard before—for the sway it had on their own creations. Music historians love to grapple with the question of who originated “Rock and Roll,” even while noting that they cannot attribute a musical movement to a single artist. And yet journalist Michael Harriot argued persuasively, in an article he wrote for The Root in February 2018, that we should credit none other than Sister Rosetta Tharpe with that invention.

It is as simple as this: What we know as rock ’n’ roll did not exist before Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She came before Elvis and Johnny Cash. She preceded Chuck Berry and Little Richard. When most music historians are asked who invented this class of music, many will name one of the previously mentioned rock stars. The most respectful and thoughtful will say it was a combination of these men. But every single one of those men, including Little Richard, will tell you that the first person from whom they heard the sound with which we have become familiar was Rosetta Tharpe. 

Who was this under-recognized innovator? Where did this possible progenitor of one of the most revolutionary musical developments of the Twentieth Century come from? Rosetta Tharpe (né Rosetta Nubin) was born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to a deeply religious family that placed music at the center of its faith. Rosetta was surrounded by, and participated in, religious music from the time she was a toddler; by six she was accompanying herself on piano and guitar. In the mid-1920s Rosetta and her mother picked up and moved to Chicago to start a new life. There they continued their spiritual and musical involvement, and eventually traveled from revival to revival, singing and playing for receptive crowds. As George Brant’s play Marie and Rosetta suggests, Tharpe vacillated between the sacred and the secular throughout her life; in the 1940s when she committed herself to singing gospel music after over a decade of exploring popular forms like jazz, swing, and the blues, she officially added the title “Sister” to her stage name. 

But whether the content of her songs remained focused on the heavens or toed the line of sexual innuendo, Tharpe’s sound was consistently inventive. And while numerous cultural critics name her as the creator of rock, they don’t agree on which of her songs crossed over into that new form. Some name “That’s All,” others say “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” and some cite the prophetically titled “Rock Me.” Two of the three are heard in this play--perhaps you will have an opinion yourself. But regardless of exactly when this happened, it is clear that attention must be paid: to a musical trailblazer, a groundbreaking performer, a remarkable guitar player (in a frustratingly male-dominated field, Rosetta was one of only three women named to Mojo Magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”). Let’s do just that. Let’s pay attention, and give creative credit where credit is due. We promise you’ll have a great time doing so.


Borchert, Scott. “Sister Rosetta Tharpe at 100.” Counterpunch, 20 March 2015, 

Diaz-Hurtado, Jessica. “Forebears: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother Of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” NPR.ORG, 24 Aug. 2017,

Harriot, Michael. “Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Queer Black Woman Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll.” The Root, 21 Feb. 2018,


Production Photos

First Rehearsal


Atlas Performing Arts Center

1333 H Street NE

Washington, DC 20002

202-399-7993 ext 2


Monday-Friday, 11 AM to 2 PM; 3 PM to 6 PM

In person: 2 hours prior to show on show days

Box office does NOT take calls two hours prior to a show's curtain, but will return all voice messages left during that time.

Will Call opens one hour prior to curtain.

Patrons who arrive late will be seated at the discretion of management.