Music

Lydia Warren began her performing career while attending high school in Franklin, Massachusetts. Shortly after a video of blues musician Albert King sparked her interest in guitar, Lydia’s parents took her to see the Massachusetts-based blues musician “Monster” Mike Welch and other bands who performed throughout the circuit of blues clubs scattered around New England. She sat in at blues jams, learning both how to command the stage and how to book gigs from musicians like Welch and Pete Henderson. Her professional career began with a gig opening for blues-rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. Since then, Lydia has recorded five albums, appeared on NBC’s Today Show, toured throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, received a nomination for a Boston Music Award, charted on the Roots Music Report, opened for B.B. King, Little Feat, and Hubert Sumlin, sat in with Buddy Guy, and performed at several of the largest blues festivals in the world.

Over time, Lydia began reading about race, gender, and authenticity in popular music, and started to unpack why she, as a white suburban child from Massachusetts, was able to parlay her youthful musical guitar talent into a career playing blues, a genre typically associated with southern Black culture and white male revivalists. When she reached the limits of self-directed study, she enrolled at Middlesex Community College. During her time there she won a Follett Scholarship and her end-of-year classical guitar recital won Prize for the Most Outstanding Musical Performance. Lydia then received a full scholarship to Smith College where she deepened her study of blues and ethnographic methods under the guidance of Steve Waksman and Margaret Sarkissian, respectively. Lydia soon included blues tourism as an analytical lens and focused on Beale Street, the Official Home of the Blues and a music-based tourist attraction, in Memphis, Tennessee.

After Smith College, she attended the University of Virginia, earning her PhD in May of 2021. Her dissertation research included archives and interviews, as well as daily performances with longtime Beale Street harmonica player Vince Johnson and a stint at B.B. King’s Blues Club with the Blues Player’s Club, a group lead by second generation blues musician Rodd Bland. During her research, she advocated for musicians and worked with Beale Street Management and the Downtown Memphis Commission to provide low-cost parking for musicians. She is a Fellow at Tourism Reset, an interdisciplinary research and outreach group that seeks to identify, study, and challenge patterns of social inequity in tourism. Lydia works to raise awareness about the histories of racism in blues and blues tourism and advocates for sustainable, equitable, and just solutions.