US blues singer to perform in the Park

Published: Friday | February 24, 2012 Comments 0
In photo: Gaye Adegbalola strums the guitar while Roddy Barnes accompanies on keyboard at the American International School in Kingston yesterday. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer
In photo: Gaye Adegbalola strums the guitar while Roddy Barnes accompanies on keyboard at the American International School in Kingston yesterday. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer

Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter

Her last name may be hard to pronounce but Gaye Adegbalola should have everybody calling it after she 'throws it down' tonight.

The blues singer will be performing with fellow American jazz/blues performer Roddy Barnes at the United States Embassy's Black History Month concert at Emancipation Park. This will be her first performance in Jamaica.

The Gleaner caught up with Adegbalola at the American International School in Kingston, where she was hosting one of her 'teaching the blues' workshops to 10th-graders. She taught them the history of the genre and the various blues forms across the US. Adegbalola was born and raised in segregated Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1944.

"I heard a quote the other day ... 'haters are my motivators'!" the witty singer said as she reflected on her childhood. "All the hatred that I ran into just inspired me to burn brighter."

Embracing black power

Her mom, Gladys Todd, was a community organiser who spearheaded the local civil-rights struggle. Adegbalola herself picketed during the movement, later embracing black power.

"So I took on an African name and stopped straightening my hair and I learned to love myself," said 'Miz A', as she likes to be called. She graduated from Boston University with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She eventually became a teacher, starting in the early 1970s, and was an educator in her hometown's public school system for 18 years. In 1982, she was honoured as Virginia State Teacher of the Year. But she always loved music.

"The music was always there but I didn't start playing guitar until I was 35 and I didn't go on the road until I was 44," she revealed. She was a founding member of the group, Saffire - the Uppity Blues Women. The group was together for 25 years, touring as far away as Australia and South Africa. She has won numerous awards including the prestigious Blues Music Award, considered the Grammy of the genre.

Adegbalola has 14 CDs in national distribution, including four on her own label, Hot Toddy Music. Always fighting for the marginalised, she will release a children's blues album next month, something she felt compelled to do because of the bullying that children can face from their peers. She also composes, plays the acoustic and slide guitar, and harmonica. She said she enjoys teaching the genre to youngsters.

"I think young people will appreciate it more too if it were available to them ... and also you don't make a lot of money from this particular kind of music," Adegbalola confessed. Along with Barnes, she has toured parts of West Africa and countries like France. Like the blues of the 1920s and '30s, that were just piano and voice, it will just be the duo. But she promised some "neo-classic" stuff as well.

"We're going to do some more contemporary songs that everybody might know. But it'll be a little different because you'll be able to hear every note and every nuance and hopefully the folks will enjoy it," she smiled.

The show begins at 6 p.m. and admission is free, but the public is asked to bring canned goods to donate to Food For The Poor.

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