Take Five for Michael Bourne: classic songs handpicked by his colleagues at WBGO

For over 35 years, Michael Bourne has been a beloved and absolutely original presence on the airwaves of WBGO – as the host of Singers Unlimited and Blues Break, and as a storyteller with unlimited ideas about this music we all love.

Michael turns 75 this Saturday. And he is retiring as an employee of WBGO – a circumstance that can’t help but ring bittersweet, though you can be sure he will continue to appear, on a volunteer basis, as a member of our. family. And speaking of family: we thought it wouldn’t be appropriate for a few of his fellow WBGOs to host this Take Five, with songs they associate with Michael.

We’ll be celebrating Michael Bourne’s remarkable legacy throughout the month – stay tuned for more details! And if you have a favorite Bourne story to share, leave a comment on any of WBGO’s social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Dave Brubeck, “Strange Meadow Lark”

Strange meadow lark

Maybe it’s Michael’s theatrical experience and his passion for the stage that makes him such a good storyteller. I have had the honor of sitting with him at several fundraisers, and I have heard so many of his great stories both on and off the air. One story that spoke to me a lot about the man was about the first song he played on the radio, “Strange Meadow Lark” by Dave Brubeck. The melody is based on the call of the Skylark, a bird that could be heard near Brubeck’s childhood home. Michael was beaming when he explained how this song had made him a lifelong jazz fan, and how one of his biggest life experiences was going to Brubeck’s in Connecticut to interview the pianist and songwriter. iconic. The fact that he carried this song and this memory with him for all these years told me how much music and Michael’s life journey are truly linked, not separate – connected by heart. (Cognac wood)

Howlin ‘Wolf, “Smokestack Lightning”

Chimney flash

For years, Michael Bourne has conducted an annual blues poll, and Howlin ‘Wolf has consistently ranked among the favorites. It’s no mystery why Wolf struck a chord with Dr Bourne, a former boy soprano and comedian by training. Howlin ‘Wolf’s magnetic presence, throaty thunderous voice and mesmerizing falsetto will literally stop you in your tracks. Experience the constant vamping groove of “Smokestack Lightning”, conjuring up images of a blowing and streaming locomotive coming straight to your soul. (Monifa Brown)

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, “His Master’s Choice”

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, “His Master’s Choice”

Michael Bourne’s stories are as hip as the music he’s shared on WBGO for nearly four decades. I once asked him where he found freedom in music, and MB shared a story about his time in Zug, Switzerland, with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. Gruntz told Michael the best place to photograph the group was in the middle. Bourne said: “The freedom that I felt inside this group has reached my core.” Feel this freedom with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band performing “His Master’s Choice”, written by Franco Ambrosetti for Gruntz’s 75th birthday, performed at a festival in Lucerne in 2010. (Gary Walker)

Donald Byrd, “Cristo Redentor”

Cristo Redentor (Remastered)

From 1995 to 2004, I hosted Sunday Morning Harmony, the show that preceded Singers Unlimited. For most of those years, I would spend the first hour or two talking to Michael about all, music and more. It was during these sessions that Michael nicknamed me “Queen of the Hang”. And he regaled me with stories of his life and travels – including going to Brazil, where we laid eyes on the famous Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain, the inspiration for the song. Just as it is a symbol of peace, the tune reflects Donald Byrd’s choice to write “spiritual” songs for this recording. When I arrived in Brazil, I experienced emotions similar to those Michael had felt: it was magical. Michael is the epitome of virtue and love – a man of peace whom I cherish and respect. (Sheila Anderson)

Charles Earland, “More today than yesterday”

More today than yesterday (Instrumental)

When I think of Michael Bourne, I think of his gruff approach, both on and off the air. One of my first experiences with him was in the music library at WBGO. I was looking for music for my show that day and he walked up to me and, out of the blue, said, “It’s pronounced ‘Finest’ (Phineas) Newborn.” All I could do was thank him – the whole time I was jumping inside realizing Michael Bourne had been listening to my show! The song I associate with Michael is “More Today Than Yesterday” by Charles “The Mighty Burner” Earland. Not only has this been a staple of Blues Break, but it also reminds me that I know a little more about it today than I did yesterday (thanks to Mr. Bourne’s unique way of administering unsolicited advice). (Keanna Faircloth)

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Grace D. Erickson