Sister Rosetta Tharpe is not a name that often appears in the pantheon of the most influential 20th century musicians, but the unique sound and guitar playing that she pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the rock and roll greats of the 1950s and beyond (Strange Things Happening Every Day is a particularly good example). Mixing spiritual lyrics with a gritty and rhythmic accompaniment, and performing in nightclubs and concert halls, Tharpe upset many in the religious communities of the time, but achieved real cross-over success, particularly in the 40s when she had a number of top 10 singles in the US.
Up Above My Head is a Tharpe original that uses the traditional call-and-response form of Gospel songs, with short, simple lines, and a number of thematic variations for the verses. Set against a rhythmic background of bass and piano, with Tharpe’s guitar playing (and soloing) over the top, the song was a big hit in the US in 1948, and has been covered many times since, including by Elvis Presley in a TV special, and most lately (and fabulously, if I do say so) by the hugely talented Rhiannon Giddens.
And so to the song sheet. There are so many different versions of the song, even by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, that it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ve based the verses on the Rhiannon Giddens version, but created two versions in different keys, one in C, the other in G (the Giddens version is in F!). It’s pretty straight-forward, the only one note of reference is to say that the C7/G7 chord on the third line of each verse comes right before the second half of the line (e.g. “I hear music in the air”) rather than right after the first half of the line (i.e. “Up above my head”). Also, I haven’t put the responses in the lyrics as it rather crowded and complicated the sheet – but feel free (in fact I encourage you!) to put them in. Enjoy!