Gaye Adegbalola is on the cover of what she calls “THE blues world magazine”, always sassy.
Her lips are pursed and her glasses are slightly lowered on her nose, perhaps so she can look back at anyone who gives her a glance. While her trademark white hair covers half of the publication’s nameplate, her name is big and bold with the description “Trailblazer” underneath.
“To me, it’s really a wonderful representation of who Gaye is,” Janice Davies, the performer’s longtime mentor, said of both the cover photo by local photographer Suzanne Carr Rossi and the story. “There’s a glint of humor in her eyes that mixes with that serious knowing she has. When you look at her, you see a combination of her unique outlook with her solid issues and solid sensibilities.
Adegbalola says “Living Blues” magazine writer Frank Matheis has been chronicling acoustic blues musicians like her for a long time and “worked hard to get this feature.” While many blues songs delve into love and heartache, Adegbalola’s goal of relieving pain has always tapped into a wider range of experiences, and the article lays it out. in the first paragraph.
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He says her deep blues are shaped by her dual struggles as a black lesbian and a civil rights activist growing up in Fredericksburg, where she still lives. Describing her life of achievements and sorrows, the writer calls her a brave pioneer and a hellish one, and she is proud of it.
“There’s simply no one in the blues genre like her,” writes Matheis, adding that Adegbalola, 78, “is perhaps the hippest septuagenarian on the planet. She drives even the wildest hipsters 20s boring in comparison.
Blues Music Award winner Adegbalola is best known as a founding member of Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, a trio that began and ended their 25-year musical career in Fredericksburg. She also made six other recordings on her own label, Hot Toddy Music, which derives from her maiden name of Todd.
Although Adegbalola is delighted that her life story is spread over 10 pages of the July-August edition of Living Blues magazine, she also wants to share it with the city that formed her, because she’s responsible for so much of who she is.
“Most of the story is about my activism for 60 years and my activism in my music,” Adegbalola said. “Fredericksburg influenced a lot of my music.”
And while she shares, in her own words, the actions behind this activism, she also talks about visiting the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington as a child because she and her music-loving parents couldn’t see lots of shows in the segregated city. of his birth.
She was maybe 10 when she heard blind harp magician Sonny Terry and famed guitarist Brownie McGhee open for singer Harry Belafonte.
“That’s when I heard my music,” she says. “From then on, every time they played blues, I found my music.”
But she didn’t really play the blues until she went to college “up North” at Boston University. After graduating from Walker-Grant High School, she was introduced, not as an aspiring musician, but as the “great black hope,” she wrote in the Living Blues story.
She was supposed to be a doctor majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry, but ended up working as a technical writer and biochemistry researcher, according to her bio on her website, adegbalola.com.
Then she became a science teacher and returned to schools in Fredericksburg where, among other things, she ran the Harambee 360° Experimental Theater to help young black people use performance as a tool to build self-confidence as they they struggled with identity issues during desegregation. She drew on some of her own experiences as a black teenager who peacefully picketed lunch counters downtown that would not serve her and her friends.
In 1982 Adegbalola was honored by Virginia as Teacher of the Year. Soon after, she would “change in her 40s,” said Jeff Covert, producer and musician at Wally Cleaver’s recording studio in Fredericksburg, and begin a career in music that touched even more lives.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m just praising her, but I’m going to have to congratulate her,” he said. “Who else is such a bad a–? She kind of takes no prisoners, she does it her way. God, she’s amazing, and she’s unstoppable. never has been.
Adegbalola would likely credit powerful women who influenced her, including Davies, the wife of former mayor Lawrence Davies, and Marguerite Young, his teacher at the all-black Walker Grant High School.
“It’s great that she’s on the cover of the magazine, but I think she deserves it, she earned it,” Young said.
Bruce Middle, a music professor at the University of Mary Washington and a professional musician, said the same thing.
“Oh my God, she’s beyond deserving,” he said. “She’s been a tremendous asset to the performing arts and the blues.”
Reverend Aaron Dobynes shared coverage news from the pulpit with the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) and it meant a lot to Adegbalola.
“I’ve heard from many, many musician friends, but it’s more important to me to hear from people in Fredericksburg,” she said. “Most people here have no idea what I’m doing. Of course, they know that I play music, but rarely know the extent of my music content.
This content has evolved over the years, but the one constant has been the way she talks about the human condition – and she has fought for social justice all her life.
“In her writing, she tries to give a voice to those who have been marginalized by society,” states her biography. “Yet many of his songs are known for their biting humor.”
She has always considered herself a contemporary griot – pronounced ‘gree-oh’ – a West African term for storytellers, historians and itinerant musicians. The term has become more popular in recent years and Adegbalola released an album called “The Griot” in 2018. In it she recorded songs she had written on “Flint Water”, which Free Lance-Star critic Stephen Hu called it “biting”. song about the failures of the Flint, Michigan government to protect its citizens and meet the most basic human need: water.
Another song that Hu described as the most controversial is called “Kaepernicked,” about NFL players protesting police brutality against people of color. Adegbalola admired former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s stance on a sensitive issue, likening it to Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
“Everyone talks about protesting and being on the front line and yet they see it as a disrespect to the national anthem,” she said in 2018. “If he were ever to hear this song , I want him to know that there are old black women like me who were in the Black power movement that really got their backs.
Beyond the music, however, Adegbalola sees his place in life as a contemporary griot sharing the collective history of his people.
“For me, it’s my role in life, not just in teaching,” she said four years ago. “That’s what I’ve always done.”