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Don White Plays the Parish Center for the Arts in Westford on May 31

Don White. Credit: Larry Peplin
Don White. Credit: Larry Peplin

Don White brings his music, mischief, and laughter to the Parish Center for the Arts in Westford on May 31, at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $17.

There is no one-word description for what Don White does. He has survived and thrived for twenty years, bringing his audiences to laughter and tears in his live performances, studio recordings, and on the printed page. He is a storyteller-comedian-author-troubadour-folk singer-songwriter. He is a walking challenge to the phrase “file under.” Best to just sort him under “Don White.”

“It’s a weird, unique blend, I think. I’m not sure how you sell this. It would be easier if, say, I just played gospel music. You could say that. But I kind invented what I do. There’s no easy way to say it.”

White started out as a songwriter, then took a detour through Boston’s swinging comedy scene at Catch A Rising Star in the early 90s before coming back to the city’s venerable folk scene with a whole new approach. White now had the toolkit of both songwriter and club comedian – he was “comedian funny,” not “folk funny,” he says. “I was bringing comedian sensibilities to my show, and then I had a couple of emotional songs like ‘I Know What Love Is’ so first the audience is laughing, and then they’re crying, and I bring them back. That is my niche.”   

White has headlined his own touching and uproarious shows and shared the stage with legends like Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal, Ritchie Havens, and The Band. He tours regularly in a co-headlining show with Christine Lavin. He has released five studio albums, two live albums, a greatest hits collection, and a co-headliner live album with Christine Lavin, as well as two DVDs and his autobiography, Memoirs of a C Student. His latest studio album, Winning Streak, is available now on iTunes an at cduniverse.com.

White was ambushed with the Jerry Christen Memorial Award in front of a sold-out crowd at the me & thee coffeehouse in Marblehead in November. But no one should be surprised he was the 2012 winner of the prize, which honors Boston folk musicians who show dedication to the concept of community. In April, White was ambushed with another award – the Key to the City of his hometown, Lynn – at the Speak Up! Spoken Word Open Mic. Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan popped up on the mic to give White the award and also declared April 11 “Don White Day.”

He has been teaching performance skills and comedy for ten years, sometimes to aspiring new artists, but often to community members who might be able to use those skills in their professional or personal lives. “The idea of understanding how a joke works or how to make someone laugh is a very powerful thing because nobody is not engaged when they’re laughing,” says White. “So if you’re a teacher or a preacher or you’ve got a little job in a cubicle and you find yourself having to travel around the country lecturing, if you can get a group to laugh, especially early on, it changes the whole dynamic of what’s happening.”

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