York Theatre Co to Present Akin Babatunde In World Premiere Musical LONESOME BLUES

By: May. 09, 2018

York Theatre Co to Present Akin Babatunde In World Premiere Musical LONESOME BLUES The York Theatre Company in association with Documentary Arts presents the world premiere of the new musical Lonesome Blues, based on the true story of legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, created by Alan Govenar (Texas in Paris) and Akin Babatundé (Blind Lemon Blues), directed by Katherine Owens (How Is It That We Live or Shakey Jake + Alice), performed by Akin Babatundé with David Weiss on guitar. Performances are set to begin Tuesday, June 12, 2018 for a three-week limited engagement through Sunday afternoon, July 1, 2018 at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's.

The world premiere musical Lonesome Blues is the true story of the legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson: born blind, but ultimately able to express his deepest emotions through music. Discovered on a street corner in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, Texas in 1925, Jefferson made more than 80 records over the next four years, becoming one the most prolific and influential performers of his generation and propelling the growth of rhythm and blues, soul, doo-wop, rap, and hip-hop. Building on the success of their earlier musical Blind Lemon Blues, presented by the York in 2007 and 2009, Alan Govenar and Akin Babatundé have used new research to probe deeper into the life and psyche of Blind Lemon Jefferson. In Lonesome Blues, Babatundé plays more than ten different roles, channeling the spirits of men and women alike, in a journey that is at once evocative, troubling, and transformative. Songs and monologues bring to life the voice of Blind Lemon Jefferson, his community, and his musical contemporaries, including Blind Willie Johnson, Lillian Glinn, Hattie Hudson, Bobbie Cadillac, and Lead Belly-all coming together in Jefferson's mind on the day of his death, December 19, 1929, in Chicago.

"I listened to Blind Lemon Jefferson every day for five years. He was the voice of Black America at that moment." -Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

The creative team includes James Morgan (set), Steve Woods (lights), and Jason Spinos (sound and projections).

Lonesome Blues will play the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.* & 7:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m.* & 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. (*Audience discussion follow the matinee performance.)

YORK MEMBER TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE. Tickets for the General Public go on sale May 14. Tickets for Lonesome Blues are priced at $67.50 - $72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at www.yorktheatre.org, or in person at the box office. Senior Rush tickets are available in-person beginning one hour prior to performances for $20 cash only. Student tickets can be purchased anytime in advance at the box office during regular box office business hours. Limit one ticket per valid student ID and tickets are subject to availability. Student tickets are $20.00 cash or credit. The York Theatre also offers $25 tickets for guests aged 35 years and under. Groups of 10 or more, contact Great White Way at 212-757-9117, or GreatWhiteWay.com.

York Memberships can be purchased online at www.yorktheatre.org/membership, or by visiting The York Theatre Company Box Office (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), or by calling the Box Office at (212) 935-5820 during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.).

For additional information, please visit www.yorktheatre.org


Akin Babatundé (Author/Performer) is an accomplished actor, director, and writer whose theatrical career spans Broadway, regional theater, film and television. He has been a resident company member of prestigious theatrical institutions throughout the country: Trinity Rep (Providence, RI), Alley Theater (Houston, TX), La Mama Theater (NYC), and the Dallas Theater Center. He is founder and artistic director of Vivid Theater Ensemble of Dallas and founder of Ebony Emeralds Classic Theater Company. Babatundé was the first African-American to direct for the Dallas Shakespeare Festival in the celebrated diverse production of Taming of the Shrew in 1993. As a writer, his work has been commissioned by Florida Stage, La Mama Theater, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, Brown University, the Black Academy of Arts and the and Core Ensemble. His work Shakespeare - Midnight Echoes tours in Texas, paying homage to black performing artists who performed Shakespeare from slavery to the present. He has toured extensively with Core Ensemble in Of Ebony Embers - Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance. His one-man show, Before the Second Set - A Visit with Satchmo has received critical acclaim at theaters across the country. Babatundé co-wrote, directed and starred in Blind Lemon Blues (Audelco Award for Best Director). Television appearances include "Law and Order" and "Wishbone," the PBS literary show for children. Babatundé is a renowned arts educator, having undertaken five long-term artist residencies in underserved communities in Florida, creating new music theatre works alongside at-risk teens and community members. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Arts and Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Alan Govenar (Author) is a writer, playwright, photographer and filmmaker. He is the director of Documentary Arts, a non-profit organization he founded in 1985 to present new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures. Govenar is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of twenty-nine books, including Everyday Music, Untold Glory, Stoney Knows How, Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound, Lightnin' Hopkins: His Life and Blues, Stompin' at the Savoy, and Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas. His book Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter won First Place in the New York Book Festival (Children's Non-Fiction), a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, and an Orbis Pictus Honor from the National Council of Teachers of English. Govenar's film Stoney Knows How was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and was selected as an Outstanding Film of the Year by the London Film Festival. Govenar has also produced and directed numerous films in association with NOVA, PBS, and La Sept/ARTE. His documentaries The Beat Hotel, Master Qi and the Monkey King, You Don't Need Feet to Dance, and Extraordinary Ordinary People are distributed by First Run Features. Govenar co-wrote the musical Blind Lemon Blues, which was produced at the York Theatre in New York City and toured to ten cities in Europe, including the Forum Meyrin in Switzerland, Maison des Cultures du Monde in France, and Leidse Shouwburg in The Netherlands. The Off-Broadway premiere of Govenar's new musical Texas in Paris, directed by Akin Babatundé, received rave reviews in The New York Times and The Huffington Post and garnered nominations for a Lortel Award and four Audelco Awards. Texas in Paris was presented in its European premiere at the Festival de l'Imaginaire in Paris in December 2016. Govenar is the recipient of a Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.

Katherine Owens (Director) is Artistic Director and a founding member of the Undermain Theatre in Dallas' Deep Ellum. New York credits include the premieres of Neil Young's Greendale and John O'Keefe's Glamour at the Ohio Theatre, Jeffrey M. Jones' A Man's Best Friend at WalkerSpace, and Lenora Champagne's Coaticook at the SoHo Think Tank's Ice Factory Festival. She designed the videos for Erik Ehn's Gold Into Mud at HERE's American Living Room Festival and Swedish Tales of Woe at the Ohio. At Undermain, she has directed the world premieres of several plays including Len Jenkin's Jonah (which she and Jenkin developed at The Sundance Institute), Abraham Zobell's Home Movie, Time in Kafka and Port Twilight, Matthew Paul Olmos' so go the ghosts of méxico, part one and two, David Rabe's The Black Monk, Lynne Alvarez's The Snow Queen, Mac Wellman's Two September, A Murder of Crows, and The Hyacinth Macaw, Sylvan Oswald's Profanity, and Gordon Dahlquist's Tomorrow Come Today, which went on to win the James Tait Black Award for Drama in 2015. She is the recipient of the AAUW Texas Woman of Distinction Award and the 2013 Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence in the Creative Arts and was nominated for the 2013 "Texan of the Year" by the Dallas Morning News. She is a fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, a native of Odessa, Texas and a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin.

David Weiss (Guitar) is a guitarist, songwriter, and producer based in New York City. His music and songs have appeared on award-winning albums (Straight From The Heart-Rolling Stone Magazine's Top Albums of 2003), HBO's The Night Of, major motion pictures (Leatherface), and national ad campaigns (Shimano). David's guitar has been a presence in many pivotal music scenes, from Canter's Kibitz Room in Los Angeles in the early 90s to a year-long residency at Levon Helm's legendary Midnight Ramble sessions, where he performed as a member of the Alexis P. Suter Band. In 2014, David was tapped to be "the other guitarist" in Steve Conte NYC, the band led by brilliant New York guitarist, singer and songwriter Steve Conte (Paul Simon, New York Dolls, Eric Burdon, Mink De Ville). David currently performs locally with critical favorites Girls on Grass, as well as 2/3 Goat, a mainstay of the NYC roots-rock scene.

Blind Lemon Jefferson (ca. 1893-1929), a seminal blues guitarist and songster, was born on a farm in Couchman, near Wortham, Freestone County, Texas, in the mid-1890s. He was the son of Alec and Clarissy Banks Jefferson. His parents were sharecroppers. There are numerous contradictory accounts of exactly where Lemon lived, performed, and died, complicated further by the lack of photographic documentation; to date, only one photograph of him has been confirmed. The cause of his blindness isn't known, nor whether he had some sight.

In his teens, he began spending time in Dallas and started performing in the Deep Ellum and Central Track areas where he met Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, one of the most legendary musical figures to travel and live in Texas. The two became musical partners in Dallas and the outlying areas of East Texas. Lead Belly learned much about the blues from Blind Lemon, and he had plenty to contribute as a musician and a showman. Jefferson was known to perform almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue in Dallas.

In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make records. Though he was not the first folk (or "country") blues singer-guitarist nor the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career began in 1926 and continued until 1929. In addition to blues, he recorded two spiritual songs, "I Want to Be Like Jesus in My Heart" and "All I Want Is That Pure Religion," released under the pseudonym Deacon L. J. Bates.

Jefferson's recordings display an extraordinary virtuosity. His compositions are rooted in tradition, but are innovative in his guitar solos, his two-octave vocal range, and the complexity of his lyrics, which are at once ironic, humorous, sad, and poignant. Jefferson's approach to creating his blues varied. Some of his songs use essentially the same melodic and guitar parts. Others contain virtually no repetition. Some are highly rhythmic and related to different dances, the names of which he called out at times between or in the middle of stanzas. He made extensive use of single-note runs, often apparently picked with his thumb, and he played in a variety of keys and tunings. He is widely recognized as a profound influence upon the development of the Texas blues tradition and the growth of American popular music. His significance has been acknowledged by blues, jazz, and rock musicians, from Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and T-Bone Walker to Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Carl Perkins, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles. In the 1970s, Jefferson was parodied as "Blind Mellow Jelly" by Redd Foxx in his popular television series Sanford and Son, and by the 1990s there was a popular alternative rock band called Blind Melon.

Jefferson died in Chicago on December 22, 1929, and was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery. His grave was unmarked until 1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was dedicated to him. Jefferson was inducted in the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1997 the town of Wortham began a blues festival named for the singer, and a new granite headstone was placed at his gravesite. In 2007 the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery.

Documentary Arts was founded in 1985 to create new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures. Over the years, Documentary Arts has produced numerous exhibitions, publications, audio recordings, as well as interactive media, films, videos and radio programming for national broadcast and educational distribution. Since 1997, Documentary Arts has been actively involved in development of new works of musical theatre, including Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues (Rabin Award for Best New Musical), Blind Lemon Blues (Audelco Award for Best Director Akin Babatundé) and Texas in Paris (Lortel nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for Lillias White).