Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Gaye Adegbalola

 

gaye_mosaicbw

(Photo: Suzanne Moe)

When Gaye Adegbalola was first considered for the upcoming Tinner Hill Blues Festival, event organizers were particularly interested in having the 67-year-old blues musician present her History of Women in the Blues workshop. But when a Blues Music Award winner is coming to Falls Church for a blues music festival, it’s hard not to think about having her play a few of her hits.

 

gaye_mosaicbw

(Photo: Suzanne Moe)

When Gaye Adegbalola was first considered for the upcoming Tinner Hill Blues Festival, event organizers were particularly interested in having the 67-year-old blues musician present her History of Women in the Blues workshop. But when a Blues Music Award winner is coming to Falls Church for a blues music festival, it’s hard not to think about having her play a few of her hits.

That’s why Adegbalola will be bringing her brand of socially conscious blues and her trademark humor to Cherry Hill Park Saturday in an early evening solo set, and will again perform as part of the Ladies Singing the Blues program later in the festival, in addition to her morning workshop at the Falls Church Community Center.
The workshop is Adegbalola’s way of highlighting the female blues musicians who are often overlooked in the history of the genre and emphasizing the importance of their contribution not only to musical history, but to the history of the world.

“The main history of working class black women from the 1920s is in the blues lyrics instead of the history books, which are written by white men,” Gaye said. “Black women are really left out.”

In Ladies Singing the Blues, Adegbalola will be joining the descendants of that rich heritage of blues music performed by women, passed down from blues greats like Bessie Smith and lesser-known trailblazers like KoKo Taylor.

“I’m honored to be included,” Adegbalola said of the show, which will feature herself along with Deanna Bogart, Nadine Rae and Patty Reese. “We’re going to throw it down.”

Adegbalola’s love of blues was fostered in her Fredericksburg home throughout her childhood, but didn’t become a career until later in her life. After a few jobs in the sciences, Adegbalola embarked upon what would be an 18-year career with the Fredericksburg City Public School. But with the birth of her son, Juno Lumumba Kahlil, the single mother concluded that she needed to find a way to supplement her income.

“I started playing in a hometown bar three nights a week,” Adegbalola said. “It was either that or flipping burgers.”

She began performing with Ann Rabson and Andra Faye as the group Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women in 1984, and they began touring full time in 1988. It was with Saffire that Adegbalola penned her award-winning anthem “The Middle Aged Blues Boogie” about a woman of a certain age who unabashedly pursues younger men.

The group performed its last show in November 2009, after a quarter of a century playing blues music around the nation, a decision that Adegbalola says had to do with group members wanting to pursue different musical directions.

In particular, Adegbalola wanted to leave behind the acoustic tradition of Saffire and explore electric blues, and wanted to write more songs.

Her most recent album, 2008’s “Gaye Without Shame,” stands at the intersection of two worlds. With an album including songs like “Queer Blues” and its celebratory chorus “I’m here now, and I’m queer now, you better get over it,” Adegbalola said she wanted to “take the blues genre to the gay community, and take gay issues to the blues community.” The songs address issues that face the gay community, all with the autobiographical insights of a woman who struggled to come out.

Adegbalola is currently in the studio working on an album of blues music geared toward young listeners, which she hopes will allow the older community of blues fans to share the music with their children and grandchildren.

Regardless of the audience, for Adegbalola, blues music is about a raw expression of pain and redemption.

“For me, it’s when the performer lays his or her soul bare, you share an experience with your audience that is personal, but at the same time universal,” Adegbalola said. But there’s also a more jovial side to the music Adegbalola plays, which she hopes to focus on in keeping with the atmosphere of the festival this weekend.
“It’s also about shaking your butt on a Saturday night and justifying living,” Adegbalola said.

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