Gaye Todd was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She graduated as valedictorian of the then-segregated Walker-Grant High School. She finished Boston University with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked as a technical writer for TRW Systems, a biochemical researcher at Rockefeller University, and a bacteriologist at Harlem Hospital. She has a Master's degree in Educational Media (with a concentration in photography) from Virginia State University.
In the early '70s, she began her teaching career. She was an educator in the Fredericksburg City Public School system for 18 years, and honored as Virginia State Teacher of the Year in 1982. Throughout her teaching career, she directed Harambee 360º Experimental Theater. She was able to creatively use performance as a tool to assist black youth in gaining confidence as they struggled with identity issues during the spread of "integration."
During her teaching career, Ms. Adegbalola moonlighted as a musician. By maintaining the blues legacy, she now sees herself as a contemporary griot – keeping the history alive, delivering messages of empowerment, ministering to the heartbroken, and finding joy in the mundane. As a founding member of Saffire – the Uppity Blues Women, she became a full-time performer. (Saffire ended in November, 2009, after making music together for 25 years.)
She has toured nationally and internationally, and has won numerous awards including the prestigious Blues Music Award (formerly the W.C. Handy Award – the Grammy of the blues industry). Also of importance, in 2011 Gaye was named an OUTstanding Virginian by Equality Virginia for championing GLBT equality. Further, in 2012, she received the Parents' Choice Gold Award for Music for her children's CD, "Blues in All Flavors". As of 2015, Adegbalola has 16 CDs in national distribution, including 5 on her own label, Hot Toddy Music. Gaye composes, sings and plays acoustic guitar, slide guitar, and harmonica.
She is the mother of son, Juno Lumumba Kahlil. Motherhood is essential to her bio.
She currently performs in several configurations:
Gaye: mainly original songs with guitar
Neo-Classic Blues: Gaye with accompanist Roddy Barnes
Gaye fronts "Gaye Adegbalola & The Wild Rutz" - a four piece a cappella blues groups (with some percussion & guitar)
Gaye as a guest with other bands and musicians
A dynamic speaker and a natural teacher, Gaye Adegbalola can engage, provoke, and inspire just about any audience. She currently lectures and presents various workshops including, but not limited to:
- The History of Women in the Blues
- Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs
- Gay Rights versus Civil Rights
- Motivation for Educators
By maintaining the blues legacy, Gaye now sees herself as a contemporary griot -- keeping the history alive, delivering messages of empowerment, ministering to the heartbroken, and finding joy in the mundane. She likes to say that JOY is her religion!
More About Gaye
- Born in Fredericksburg Virginia on March 21, 1944. Fredericksburg was, at that time, a segregated town
- Her Dad, Clarence R. Todd, was a Planner & Estimator and was quite an artist--drawing and painting, part time jazz musician, and founder of Harambee 360º Experimental Theatre.
- Her Mom, Gladys P. Todd, was a community organizer who spearheaded the local civil rights struggle. She worked part time at the Youth Canteen and brought home all its old records--influencing Gaye's musical taste early on.
- 1st job was sorting dirty laundry, 45 cents/hour, The Sunshine Laundry
- Sat-in & picketed in Civil Rights Movement, 1960's
- Graduated valedictorian, 1961
- Received B.A. in Biology, minor in Chemistry, Boston University 1965
- Jobs before teaching career--Technical Writer, TRW Systems; Biochemical Researcher, Rockefeller University; Bacteriologist, Harlem Hospital (also Union Representative Local 1199), 1965-70
- Activist in the Black Power Movement in New York City and formed Harlem Committee of Self-Defense, 1966-70
- Married (since divorced) in NYC to Olumide (then manager of the original Last Poets -- the 1st rappers), from this union, son Juno Lumumba Kahlil born, 1969 (this photo taken on Juno's 21st birthday)
- Began work on novel, 500 Year Diary of An Oppressed Woman - 1969, completed 4th re-write in 1979; never published
- Returned to Fredericksburg, 1970
- With her father, directed Black Experimental Theater Group, Harambee 360º, Gaye often acted in productions, 1970-88. (Father passes in 1977).
- Taught 8th Grade Science, High School Gifted & Talented Program, and Creative Thinking in Fredericksburg City Schools, 1971-88
- Received Master of Education in Educational Media, specializing in photography, Virginia State University, 1978
- Honored as Virginia State Teacher of the Year, 1982
- Lectured and conducted Workshops on Motivational and Teaching Techniques to groups of teachers throughout Virginia, 1982-88
- Saffire--The Uppity Blues Women formed, 1984
- Saffire records first album on the Saffire record label, 1987
- Became full time touring musician with Saffire, 1988-2009
- Taught/teach blues workshops covering such topics as Blues Vocal Techniques, Blues Repertoire, Vocal Performance, Blues History, and Women's Blues, 1988- present
- Saffire signs contract with Alligator Records, 1989; releases 1st recording in 1990; has recorded six CDs for Alligator, 1990-99
- Won the Blues Music Award (the BMA -- formerly known as the W. C. Handy Award) for composing Blues Song of the Year, The Middle Aged Blues Boogie 1990
- Met Suzanne Moe in 1991, and they lived together until 2009.
- Blues Reporter for syndicated (70+ stations) radio program, World Cafe, on National Public Radio, recorded at WXPN, Philadelphia, PA, 1991-93
- Faced medical challenges (two primary cancers) and life threatening complications, 1992. Recovery has been successful. Developed an appreciation for health and healing.
- Instructional Blues Vocal Techniques Video released on Homespun Tapes, 1997
- Founder and member of the Steering Committee of the Blues Music Association, 1998 to 2003
- Release of solo CD, Bitter Sweet Blues on Alligator Records, 1999
- 1999 elected to the Board of Directors of the Blues Music Association (BMA)
- In 2001, Gaye's traditional blues is combined with her son Juno's synthetic Goth music. They call the resulting sound "Industrial Blues" and they call themselves "Blue Mama Black Son." For more information and for sound bytes, visit the Shop page.
- 2001 - Saffire releases its 7th CD on Alligator Records, "Ain't Gonna Hush!"
- Took over hosting for Dan Akroyd and programmed a "Women in the Blues" show for House of Blues' syndicated Radio Show, summer 2001, rebroadcast in 2002.
- Visited Africa in 2002 -- first to South Africa with Saffire; then to West Africa. Visit the gallery for photos of the West African trip.
- In 2003, cut back on extensive touring, performs more solo work and more presentations of "History of Women in the Blues" workshop.
- The U.S. Senate names 2003 the "Year of the Blues." This is due, in part, to the lobbying efforts of the BMA.
- Gaye interviewed in episode #3 and Gaye & Juno (Blue Mama Black Son) interviewed in episode #12 of Public Radio International's (PRI) Year of the Blues Series documenting the history of the blues.
- Fall, 2003, debuts classic blues act with Roddy Barnes. "Neo-Classic Blues" CD released May, 2004.
- May, 2005, "Neo-Classic Blues" nominated for two Out Music Awards -- Outstanding CD by duo or group and Outstanding Producer.
- Summer, 2006 Blue Mama Black Son, (Gaye and her son, Juno) release their first Industrial Blues CD, "Blues Gone Black." For sound bytes, visit the Shop page.
- Nov/Dec, 2007 and Jan/Feb, 2008 "Gaye Without Shame" is recorded. Aside from the music, Gaye's mission is to take GLBT issues to the blues community and the blues genre to the GLBT community.
- April, 2008, Gaye and Roddy toured Ghana and Togo in West Africa
- July 22, 2008 - official release date for Gaye Without Shame
- January 4, 2009, Gaye begins new life living alone as a single woman.
- Saffire releases final CD, "Havin' the Last Word," January 27, 2009.
- Spring, 2009, Gaye nominated for Blues Music Award as Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year for her work on the CD "Gaye Without Shame." The CD received excellent reviews. Gaye also performed at the Blue Music Awards, May 2009.
- Fall, 2009, the Saffire documentary "HOT FLASH" is released on DVD.
- November 7, 2009, Saffire plays its final show. Although the band is retiring, the individual members of the group will continue to make music in various configurations.
- 2010, Saffire is nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best Acoustic Blues CD of the Year for "Havin' the Last Word." Also, their documentary, "Hot Flash," is nominated for Best Blues DVD of the Year.
- Summer, 2010, the song "It Hurts Me Too" from "Gaye Without Shame" rolls under the credits of the hit HBO TV show True Blood. Gaye is also featured as one of "35 Sexy Lesbian Musicians" in Curve Magazine's 20th Anniversary Issue (July/August 2010).
- April, 2011, Gaye named an OUTstanding Virginian by Equality Virginia for her activism for GLBT equality.
- Summer, 2011, Gaye commits to sharing her life with Dr. Gloria Jackson, www.gloriajacksonmd.com.
- March, 2012, Gaye's children's CD, "Blues in All Flavors," released. Gaye's mission was to introduce a variety of blues forms (Piedmont, Delta, New Orleans, etc.) to children. Ever the teacher, Gaye created many Learning Activities to accompany this CD. In the fall, this CD receives the Parents' Choice Gold Award for Music.
- The Wild Rutz a cappella blues group is formed in 2013. 2014 Gaye's solo Old Black Dyke show premieres.
- For Black History Month, February, 2014, the award winning on-line magazine for LBTQ women (over 3.7 viewers per month), Autostraddle, names Gaye as one of 100 Black Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Queer and Transgender Women You Should Know. She is listed with such notables as Zora Neale Hurston, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and Robin Roberts as well as her sheroes, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith.
- April, 2015, Gaye Adegbalola & The Wild Rutz release their first CD, "Is It Still Good to Ya?"