Gayelynn McKinney began playing the drums at the age of two. She received much of her musical training in the Detroit jazz scene, and she obtained her Bachelor of Music degree from Oakland University. Gayelynn has recorded projects with the group Straight Ahead (of which she is a cofounder), Ralphe Armstrong, and Marcus Belgrave, just to name a few, and recently recorded several solo projects. She was a 2014 Kresge Artist Fellows recipient and has earned a Grammy nomination, a Motor City Music Award, and Detroit Black Music Award. Gayelynn has performed at Montreux-Switzerland, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the Essence Festival, the Olympics, and the Kennedy Center. She has also performed as a side musician with such notables as Benny Golson, Diane Schuur, Jason Marsalis, Freda Payne, Roy Ayers, Geri Allen, Marcus Belgrave, Chaka Khan, Roy Hargrove, Randy Brecker, and many others. She was also the last drummer to tour with Aretha Franklin.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a percussionist and educator, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Gayelynn McKinney: I had a strong interest in computer programming at one time. I was going to pursue music and computer programming, but I was talked out of it by my college counselor. So I just pursued music.
R!S: As a freelance artist, what's one of the weirdest gigs you've taken or oddest jobs you've had outside the industry?
GM: It’s not all that odd, but it definitely is outside what I do now. While I was in college, I made pizzas for Little Caesars Pizza and I painted dorm rooms.
R!S: What's one thing most people don’t know about you?
GM: After all these years of playing and teaching, I still get quite nervous in certain situations.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
GM: My favorite percussion instrument is definitely the drum set. I love the challenge of getting all four limbs to do something different at the same time. I also like figuring out how to adapt the drum set to music that usually doesn’t use this kind of percussion instrument.
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
GM: I group in a small city in the middle of Detroit called Highland Park. My household was a very musical place to grow up because both of my parents were musicians. My father was a jazz pianist and my mother was a pianist and an opera, jazz, and gospel singer.