One-man musical celebrates life of bluesman


By Becky Mayad

The musical “Lonesome Blues” pays tribute to one of Deep Ellum’s most famous and influential songsters, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Produced by Documentary Arts in association with Central Track Productions, the show opens Sunday, Feb. 25, and continues with weekend matinees through Sunday, April 7, at Club Dada in Deep Ellum (2720 Elm St., Dallas). Written by author/filmmaker Alan Govenar and acclaimed actor/director Akin Babatundé, the one-man musical is sponsored in part by the Deep Ellum Community Association, and presented in association with the African American Museum, Dallas, which is currently presenting two exhibitions that commemorate Deep Ellum’s 150th anniversary.

For Dallas-based actor J Dontray Davis, playing Blind Lemon has been a life-changing event.
Photo courtesy of African American Museum, Dallas

“Lonesome Blues” celebrates the life and accomplishments of legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson — born blind but ultimately able to express his deepest emotions through music. Born in rural East Texas and discovered on a street corner in Deep Ellum in 1925, Jefferson made more than 80 records during the next four years, becoming the biggest country blues singer of his generation. Despite his tragic death at age 36, the prolific and powerful performer propelled the growth of rhythm and blues, soul, doo-wop, rap and hip-hop.

In “Lonesome Blues,” Dallas-based actor J Dontray Davis plays more than 10 different roles, channeling the spirits of men and women alike in a journey that is at once evocative, troubling and transformative. The show’s songs and monologues bring to life the voice of Blind Lemon, his community and his musical contemporaries, including Blind Willie Johnson, Lillian Glinn, Hattie Hudson, Bobbie Cadillac and Lead Belly. They all come together in Jefferson’s mind on the day of his death, December 19, 1929, when he wandered into the Chicago snow and froze to death. 

For Davis, playing Blind Lemon has been a life-changing event. 

“Being able to tell this heartfelt story about a man who lived his life unapologetically, a man who pushed through all obstacles and proved that determination and hard work pays off is very liberating. Being that Blind Lemon and I are from the same area of East Texas and have a lot of similarities, I honestly feel like he is speaking to me, using me as a vessel to tell his story and encourage a new generation,” said Davis.

Marking Deep Ellum’s 150th anniversary milestone, the African American Museum, Dallas is currently presenting two free exhibitions through May 24 that relate to the life and times of Blind Lemon Jefferson. 

Central Track: Crossroads of Deep Ellum focuses primarily on the 1920s and 1930s and popular music of the period. Seeing a World Blind Lemon Never Saw presents a photographic series that explores rural East Texas. 

The 80-minute family-friendly performances of “Lonesome Blues” are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. on the following dates: Feb. 25 (opening day); March 2-3, 9-10, 16-17, 23-24 and 30, and April 6-7. 

 Tickets are available at