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CoastLine: Blues musician Robert Lighthouse says tour of war-torn Ukraine fundamentally changed him

Robert Lighthouse

Blues musician Robert Lighthouse may have grown up in Sweden, but as soon as he turned 18 he came to the United States to live with a native American family on a Hopi reservation and learn about his beloved Mississippi Delta Blues.  He had no idea that decades later, he'd travel to a war zone to make music for people living with daily terror. He also had no idea how profoundly that trip would affect him.

Why would a Swedish blues musician living in Washington, D.C. tour a war zone to play clubs in Ukraine -- so close to the battle he could hear Russian shelling? And why would he risk his own life for more than two weeks, in nine different Ukrainian cities, playing for a population facing basic questions of survival?

That’s one of the explorations we undertake with Robert Lighthouse, a guitar, harmonica, percussion-playing bluesman. He’s been called “supremely talented” by Blues & Rhythm Magazine. Blues Review describes his “consummate skill” and “stunning harmonica chops”. Others have compared his delta blues-playing to the great masters.

Robert Lighthouse started as a street musician in D.C.’s Dupont Circle. He moved on to open for Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter, and he played with and for Mick Fleetwood at his eponymous club in Washington, DC on the regular. He’s put out three albums, Drive-Thru Love, Deep Down In The Mud, and Democracy Boulevard. He regularly tours and came to Wilmington, NC, where he played The Rusty Nail on April 29, 2023.

Robert Lighthouse playing in the WHQR CoastLine studio on April 27, 2023
Nate Mauldin
Robert Lighthouse playing in the WHQR CoastLine studio on April 27, 2023


Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Robert Lighthouse on Qualified Records

Robert Lighthouse Facebook

A series of photos taken in the war zones of Ukraine:

Ukraine soldiers
contributed by Robert Lighthouse / Jose
Ukraine soldiers

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.