Edmund Barry Gaither was born in Great Falls, South Carolina, on October 6, 1944. Growing up in a small town, Gaither had a devout interest in the arts, but no access to museums. Attending Morehouse College proved to be very influential to his growth as a person, as it was the first time that Gaither had the opportunity to live with and appreciate paintings and sculptures first-hand. Additionally, all of his formal understanding and training in the visual arts and art history began there. Gaither graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree and went on to obtain a M.F.A. from Brown University in 1968.
Since 1969, Gaither has been a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He is also the founder and curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Using the Museum of Fine Arts as his base, he has developed the National Center's permanent collection and organized many exhibitions. His work has established the National Center as a vital cultural presence for African American art in Boston and the nation.
Gaither has taught at Spellman College, Wellesley College, Harvard University, and Boston University, as well as serving as panel chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts and on President George W. Bush's Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.