The Blues Woman
Gaye Adegbalola’s love of music was a natural outgrowth of having a father who was a musician and a mother who worked at a youth center and brought home the old records when the jukeboxes were changed out. It was at a Carter Baron Amphitheater performance that she first saw Harry Belafonte, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
Hearing such seminal musicians affected the little girl.
Next thing she knew, she was in love with Virginia and North Carolina Appalachian blues. In college she discovered Nina Simone and Bessie Smith’s blues of the 20s. Ma Rainey and Ida Cox were next and Gaye’s love of the blues just kept growing.
“I did not realize that the history of working class black women was only in blues lyrics,” she says. “I started coming into my blackness. Up until then, I didn’t have a history with the civil rights movement. I’d spent a lot of time trying to be white. Once I found the blues, I stopped straightening my hair and learned to love myself.”
Fast forward to 2009 when Gaye and her band, Saffire and the Uppity Blues Women, played their final show after years of being successful enough to need a big staff to support them.
“”To keep everybody paid, you have to travel a lot,” Gaye says. “I’ve been to 47 of the 50 states and to many countries, South Africa, Brazil, Norway, New Zealand. It was a springboard to the world for me.”
The group sung about the human condition, women’s conditions and people in pain, but always in an empowering and uplifting way. And always with outstanding musicianship.
“Ann (Rabson) is one of the greatest boogie-woogie piano players anywhere,” she says.”And Andra (Faye) can play anything, mandolin, guitar, bass and she’s got an amazing voice! Me, I’m kind of the B.S. factor and the main songwriter.”
She calls her songs “observations of life,” gleaned from years of living true to herself. “Live totally honestly,” Gaye recommends. “That way, you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ve done a lot of living and I wish I’d been more honest in my life ages ago.
Many years ago, I was in the closet. I came out of the closet and into the room. Then I came out of the room and into the house. And now I’ve left the house and I’m running up and down the street naked.”
She came out in her late forties, well into her life, because she wanted to live with the woman she’d fallen in love with and wasn’t satisfied with the idea of a half life with her. As part of that, she loves the term “queer” and considers it part of living honestly to use it.
During the years when she was a single parent raising her son and teaching 8th grade science, she felt like she had to be in the closet in conservative Virginia.
“That’s why I sang the blues. It’s about getting the pain out and finding humor in the pain. I’ve had opportunities as a black, as a woman, as a single parent, as a lesbian and as a poor person to feel that.”
In 2009 she split with her long-time companion of 25 years and didn’t look for anyone else. Instead it just happened. “I now have a new love,” she says with obvious satisfaction. “She’s absolutely beautiful. I never thought I’d find it again.”
With a third member, they have formed the trio Wild Roots, an a capella group for which Gaye is now writing material. It’s part of her focus on following her passion.
“If at all possible for what you love to be your work,” she advises, “Aim for that in life. I loved teaching but what a blessing it is to make music for a living. But you have to be satisfied with not making a lot of money.”
At 68, Gaye is happy with where she’s been and what’s ahead. “I’m a little tired. I’ve been working hard for a long time and I want to enjoy music, make it fun and sit on the front porch and rock.” She’d still like to travel and see the last three states she hasn’t: Hawaii, Wyoming and North Dakota. Her favorite place in the world is Barcelona and she intends to see it again, too.
But any conversation with Gaye is about the future possibilities and not about getting old. When asked what she’d like her last meal to be, she laughs out loud.
“Tequila, good red wine, pecans and a steak with grilled onions,” she says emphatically. It’s safe to say Gaye Adegbalola will have many more such meals before she’s through making music and living life honestly.
Karen Newton is a freelance writer and full-time nerd who isn’t happy unless she’s going out every night for food, music or art and blogging it at www.icouldgoonandon.blogspot.com.
Meet one of this year’s OUTstanding Virginians at Equality Virginia’s Commonwealth Dinner on Saturday, April 16.April 4, 2011
- Gaye Adegbalola Performs at GCCR, March 2, 2011
- Gaye Adegbalola and Roddy Barnes come to GCCR, April 23, 2010
- Saffire–The Uppity Blues Women Coming to Richmond, September 15, 2009
GayRVA on Twitter