Gaye Adegbalola is a blues singer and guitarist,
teacher, lecturer, activist, and photographer. She was born Gaye Todd in
Fredericksburg, Virginia on March 21, 1944. Biography
Gaye's father, Clarence R. Todd, was the first Black school board
member in Fredericksburg and was also a jazz musician. He later founded
a performing arts group for black youth called "Souls of Shade", today
known as Harambee 360. Her mother, Gladys P. Todd, was one of the first
organizers of the 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. Both parents were major influences on her music
and social identity.
Gaye's surname, Adegbalola, was given to her by a Yoruba priest she met
in 1968. Meaning "I am reclaiming my royalty," Adegbalola uses the name
to signify her pride in her black heritage.
Gaye Todd 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. She later attended Boston
University, graduating with a B.A. in Biology. Gaye's occupations after
college included those of 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.
These were all in sharp contrast to her first job as a teenager, working
in a laundry for forty-five cents an hour.
From the years 1966 to 1970 she was involved in the Black Power Movement
in New York and organized the Harlem Committee on Self-Defense. During
this same period she met and married her husband. Her son, Juno Lumumba
Kahlil was born in 1969, and would later make his own mark in the goth/industrial
In 1970, after divorcing her husband, Gaye Adegbalola returned to
Fredericksburg, where she taught science, gifted and talented, and
creative thinking courses in the local schools. She helped her father
direct the Harambee Theatre, sometimes acting in performances herself,
until her father's death in 1977. Having played the flute in her high
school band, she began studying guitar in 1977. In 1978 she received her
Master of Education in Educational Media from Virginia State University,
and in 1982 was honored as Virginia's Teacher of the Year. She spent
much of the rest of the eighties conducting teachers' workshops on
motivational and teaching techniques.
Saffire - The
Uppity Blues Women was first formed as a duo in 1984 by Ms.
Adegbalola and her guitar teacher, Ann Rabson, with third member Andra
Faye joining later to form a trio. Saffire recorded their first album on
their own label in 1987, Middle Age Blues, with songs including "They
Call Me Miss Thang," and "Middle Age Blues Boogie." The following year
Gaye Adegbalola became a full-time blues performer and in 1990 the band
recorded its first album for Alligator Records, with Gaye winning the
"Song of the Year" W.C. Handy Award for
"Middle Age Blues Boogie." In 1991, she met her life partner, Suzanne
During the 1990s Gaye 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 won a battle against 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 featured covers 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.
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.
Adegbalola's song "Big Ovaries, Baby" is featured 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.