Gaye Adegbalola

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Gaye Adegbalola
Birth nameGaye Todd
Born (1944-03-21) March 21, 1944 (age 74)
Fredericksburg, Virginia, U.S.
Years active1984–present
Associated actsSaffire - The Uppity Blues Women

Gaye Adegbalola (born Gaye Todd, March 21, 1944, Fredericksburg, Virginia, United States)[1] is an American blues singer and guitarist, teacher, lecturer, activist, and photographer.


Adegbalola's father, Clarence R. Todd, was the first Black school board member in Fredericksburg, as well as a jazz musician.[1] He later founded a performing arts group for black youth called Souls of Shade, today known as Harambee 360.[2] Her mother, Gladys P. Todd, was an early organizer of local civil rights movement in Fredericksburg, and also brought old jazz records home from her job at the Youth Canteen to give to the young Gaye.[2]

Her surname, Adegbalola, was given to her by a Yoruba priest she met in 1968.[3] Meaning "I am reclaiming my royalty", Adegbalola uses the name to signify her pride in her black heritage.[3][4]

She graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1961, having already participated in numerous sit-in protests and picket lines as a member of the civil rights movement.[5] She later attended Boston University, graduating with a B.A. in biology.[5] Adegbalola's occupations after college included being a technical writer for TRW Systems, a biochemical researcher at Rockefeller University and a bacteriologist at Harlem Hospital, where she was also the local union representative.[6] These were all in sharp contrast to her first job as a teenager, working in a laundry for forty-five cents an hour.[6]

From 1966 to 1970, she was involved in the Black Power Movement in New York and organized the Harlem Committee on Self-Defense.[6] During this period, she met and married her husband. Her son, Juno Lumumba Kahlil was born in 1969, and later made his own mark in the goth/industrial music world.[6]

In 1970, after divorcing her husband, Adgbalola returned to Fredericksburg, where she taught science, gifted and talented and creative thinking courses in local schools.[6] She helped her father to direct the Harambee Theatre, sometimes acting in performances herself, until his death in 1977.[2] Having played the flute in her high school band, she began studying guitar in 1977.[7] In 1978 she received her Master of Education in Educational Media from Virginia State University,[6] and in 1982 was honored as Virginia's Teacher of the Year.[8] She spent much of the rest of the 1980s conducting teachers' workshops on motivational and teaching techniques.

Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women was first formed as a duo in 1984 by Adegbalola and her guitar teacher, Ann Rabson, with Earlene Lewis joining later to form a trio.[7] Lewis was replaced by Andra Faye in 1992. Saffire recorded their first album, Middle Age Blues, on their own label in 1987, with songs including "They Call Me Miss Thang" and "Middle Age Blues Boogie". The following year, Adegbalola became a full-time blues performer and in 1990 the band recorded its first album for Alligator Records, with Adegbalola winning the "Song of the Year" W.C. Handy Award for "Middle Age Blues Boogie".[7] In 1991, she met her life partner, Suzanne Moe.[5]

During the 1990s, Adegbalola held workshops on various aspects of blues music and worked as a blues music reporter for the World Cafe program on National Public Radio. She also survived cancer. In 1998, she co-founded the Steering Committee of the Blues Music Association. Her first solo album, Bitter Sweet Blues, was recorded in 1999. In addition to her own original compositions ("You Don't Have to Take It (Like I Did)", "Big Ovaries, Baby" and "Nothing's Changed") the album had cover versions of songs by Bessie Smith, Smokey Robinson, Ma Rainey and Nina Simone. In 2000, in a short piece on her work and career in The Advocate, Adegbalola came out as a lesbian.[4]

Adegbalola's song "Middle Aged Blues Boogie" was named Best Song of the Year at the 1990 W. C. Handy Awards (now the Blues Music Awards). Adegbalola was nominated for two Outmusic awards in 2005.[9] Adegbalola's song "Big Ovaries, Baby" was used in episode 23 of The War On Democracy! podcast. Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women disbanded amicably in 2009, but Adegbalola continues to pursue solo projects.[10]

Adegbalola was honored as one of the Library of Virginia's Virginia Women in History for 2018.[11]


  1. ^ a b Gaye Adegbalola, All Media Guide (2007); retrieved August 2, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Johnson, Virginia. African American History in the Rappahannock Region, Retrieved August 2, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Adegbalola, Gaye. Article #22: What's The Difference Between Being Black And Being Gay???? ... When You're Black You Don't Have To Tell Your Mother,, spring 2004. Retrieved August 2, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Lehoczky, Etelka. "Gaye Ol' Time - blues singers Gaye Adegbalola", The Advocate, February 15, 2000. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Miller, Dan. "Nothing but the blues", Washington Blade, May 28, 2004. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Adegbalola, Gaye. Bio, Retrieved August 2, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Adegbalola, Gaye; Faye, Andra; Rabson, Ann. Conan, Neal, "Saffire, Uppity Blues Women", NPR: Talk of the Nation, April 27, 2006. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  8. ^ 1982 State Teachers of the Year Archived March 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., Council of Chief State School Officers. June 26, 2008. Retrieved August 2, 2008.
  9. ^ Shapiro, Gregg. "The Gaye Blues : Out blues singer Gaye Adegbalola releases a new compilation", OutSmart, March 2006). Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  10. ^ Jeremy Gloff, "Gaye Adegbalola: The OUTmusic Interview" (appeared on OUTmusic’s Myspace page, November 15, 2008). "Q 3) What’s your fave song that you have ever written? A. It is usually the one I am presently working on — what I’m closest to at the moment. However, I’ll name my favorite that I just recorded: "I Can Do Bad All By Myself". The one that brought me the most money is one that put my son through college: "The Middle Aged Blues Boogie"."
  11. ^ "Virginia Women in History 2018 Gaye Todd Adegbalola". Retrieved 15 March 2018.

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