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The Creators of 'Lonesome Blues' Discuss Its Inspiration, Blind Lemon Jefferson, on Blues Break

Lonesome Blues is a play about blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the best-known and best-selling blues artists of the 1920’s. His emotional singing was powerful, and nobody played guitar like Lemon. He rarely played in strict danceable time, and his sometimes whimsical, sometimes dramatic guitar often burst every which way. Lemon’s playing and singing is in the DNA of all the blues artists who came after him. Lonesome Blues imagines him on his last night, only in his mid-30’s, dying in the cold of Chicago, remembering highs and lows of his life.

Akin Babatunde co-authored the play with blues scholar Alan Govenar, and he plays Lemon with a passionate presence, especially when deeply singing some of Lemon’s most famous songs (“Matchbox Blues,” “Broke and Hungry,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”) with guitarist David Weiss. Babatunde and Governor talked with me on The Blues Break. They brought songs from the show and listened to some of Lemon’s most iconic records. Lonesome Blues is playing at the York Theatre through July 1.

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Michael Bourne, who died on August 21, 2022, was a presence on the air at WBGO between the end of 1984 and the start of 2022 when he retired from full-time hosting duty. He is the host of the Singers Unlimited Podcast by WBGO Studios. Previously, he hosted the popular Singers Unlimited (1985-2022). He also hosted the equally popular Blues Break for several years. Michael is a senior contributor to Down Beat, with the magazine since 1969. Doctor Bourne earned a PhD in Theatre from Indiana University -- which comes in handy when he's a theatre critic for the WBGO Journal.