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(Ah-deg-bah-lo-la) began her music career playing the flute
while in high school and was chosen for the All-State band three
years straight. In 1977, Gaye began taking guitar lessons from
Ann Rabson and devoted more of her time to solo performing. "I
had always played in my bedroom late at night after my son went
to sleep," she says. "Then push came to shove. He had a lot of
eye surgery and I needed a second job, and it was either
flinging burgers or playing music. I played three nights a week
in a local bar for 25 bucks a night, and that's what started the
In 1984, Gaye and Ann formed a blues duo, and Saffire--The Uppity Blues Women took form. Gaye plays guitar, harmonica and sings vocals with the group. By 1988 Gaye turned that $25-a-night gig into a full-time job. Then, in 1992, came another curveball: She developed cancer. Unable to tour heavily, she was resigned to scaling back her career when she received an unexpected boost from her idol, veteran guitarist Rory Block. With Block to produce, Gaye had no trouble convincing her record company to get behind a solo album. In 1990 Gaye received a W.C. Handy Award for "Song Of The Year," for her composition The Middle Age Boogie Blues.
Gaye's philosophy is summed up on the CD Bitter Sweet Blues by two seemingly contradictory songs. "Big Ovaries, Baby," a brawny declaration of female power, reveals the grit of a woman whose adopted last name means "I'm reclaiming my royalty" in Nigerian. But the hymn "Let Go, Let God" expresses the adaptive spirit that's guided Adegbalola down her diverse paths. In her 55 years Adegbalola has been a street-corner civil rights activist, the director of a small theater, a biochemical researcher, a mother, the state of Virginia's Teacher of the Year, and now a blueswoman.
Gaye Adegbalola was born, raised, and now lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with her life partner Suzanne. Fredericksburg is a small town of approximately twenty-thousand people near Washington, D.C. "Early on" states Gaye, "when I grew up, of course things were quite segregated. So, I lived with the whole inferiority that segregation brings and I grew to overcome that. But because of how things were, the whole black community was quite close-knit and the whole black part of town felt like family.
My mother and my father were community leaders. So I had them as my examples and everything was wonderful." Having gone through the sit-ins and the Civil Rights movement, Gaye states "I came out of that and went into the Black Power movement. I felt that I really needed to define what I fought for and was it really important to fight to go to a bathroom beside somebody or was it really important to fight for rights to vote. So it helped me to be courageous. It helped me to look my adversaries in the eye. It also helped me to pick and choose my battles. You know you can't win 'em all and you can't fight 'em all. So you have to decide where you put your energy. And you always have to be honest."
Gaye graduated valedictorian from her high school and went to Boston University where she received a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry. Gaye then worked in New York City for a number of years as a biochemical researcher and then a bacteriologist.
Gaye met her life partner, Suzanne, in 1991. When asked when she came to the realization she was gay, she responds "Oh god, I guess I've known it since I was a bab y. It was something that I've fought all my life because it wasn't socially acceptable and it was the last thing in the world that you wanted to be. So, as I came up, I knew I had these feelings in me. I mean I knew as a kid that I was a "Tomboy" but it was just something I fought. I fought. I guess in my teen and young adult years, I dated lots of men, trying to get it out of my system. I guess after I married, shortly thereafter, I realized that I was living a lie. Between then and when I finally settled down with Suzanne, I had a few relationships with women that were really meaningful BUT, as long as I was raising my son and living in small town ultra-conservative Fredericksburg, Virginia, I knew that I was not going to make a total commitment to a woman. I did not have the wherewithal to be open, and out, and my son be a minor. Plus, I was teaching school at the time. So I was very, very closeted. And it's a sad thing considering that I consider myself a strong woman, and a courageous woman. But I did not want to put any more weight on him than was needed."
When asked how her son deals with her being a lesbian, Gaye states "We are doing just fine. It took a lot of conversation. It took a lot of understanding. And I think, he too has been brought up all his life with such a fear of homosexuality. I mean the black community is quite homophobic. Small town Virginia is quite homophobic. So he had to grow in his understanding and he has really come to respect my relationship. It wasn't always the same. I guess if you notice from our picture (on Gaye's web site), Suzanne is quite younger than I am. So that was another problem that we had that he had to adjust to because she's closer to his age than to my age. So there was some obstacles. It's no joke. There was some major obstacles but we took our time because we love each other so dearly and we grew in understanding."
Gaye attributes much of the homophobia in the Black community to facing "so many issues and so many battles. I don't know. I really don't know. The black church is such an institution in our community and probably half of the black choir directors and piano players in these churches are gay but it's not like 'Welcome, welcome, come here'. It's just 'Let's not talk about this.'"
In 1992, Gaye was hit with the
news of the big "C." "I thought that I was all so well and good,
and feeling strong, and very much in love. I had met Suzanne in
'91. Then I found out that I had two primary cancers. I am
blessed to say that they got it all surgically, and I guess I
should knock on wood right here, right now. What happened after
I had the surgery and all, I guess about a week or so later, is
my internal stitches broke and I hemorrhaged for about a day. I
came out of it okay but I also came out of it with fibromyalgia,
which is chronic muscle pain, and I had to cut back on touring
and really make some changes in my lifestyle. Also, I had to
make some changes in my philosophies. So I'm just real glad to
be here. Some days, it's hard to walk. Other days, it's hard to
talk. Sometimes, you're in what we call 'Fibro Fog'. It's like
the pain is so intense, you can't think straight. You can't
focus. But I've learned how to cope with it. I just can't work
like I used to. I can't perform like I used to."
Gaye is still - probably first and foremost - a "blueswoman," says she doesn't know "the cultural or political workings of the lesbian community as well as she should," but the important thing is that she is "comfortable" with who she is. "My music is honest." Being out affords her a degree of freedom, a sense of feeling "cleaner."
With a genuine and unstoppable smile, she says, "It's one of the best things that has ever happened" to her. And, she adds, at the risk of stating the obvious, "[at least out] lesbians are REALLY happy."
Gaye's new CD, Bitter Sweet Blues, is thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and it has allowed her to express her homosexuality and feelings about coming out, themes she's kept muted until now. "Recently a lesbian who's seen a lot of our shows came running up to me and was just thrilled that now I was hers-that I was standing up and sticking out," she says. "I just figured it was about time." "The blues," says Gaye, "is the music of an oppressed people." Though she and Saffire have always had a large lesbian following, as an out lesbian, Gaye will no doubt multiply that following. "Bringing the blues to gay and lesbian people," she explains, "will heal a lot of people." That is the power of the blues, and that is certainly a need within the GLBT community.
Be sure to check out Gaye's web site at: http://www.adegbalola.com
Articles by Gaye Adegbalola
MESSAGE TO FELLOW FEMALE GUITARISTS
Solo Album --
Bitter Sweet Blues
Bitter Sweet Blues