Born in Seattle, WA; moved to Yakima, WA, at age 11; married to drummer John Cushon. Addresses: Record company--Fontana/Mercury Records, 11150 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

Oleta Adams adopted a motto of perseverance from the very beginning of her career as a singer. After more than a decade of playing piano bars with no break in sight, one night she impressed two key members of her audience without the slightest knowledge of their presence. Within a few years, Oleta Adams had become a hit sensation. Her persistence and talent led her to fulfill a dream of stardom.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Oleta Adams moved to Yakima, Washington when she was in the sixth grade. She grew up singing in the choir of the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, where her father served as minister. At the age of nine, she started taking piano lessons and established her love for music. "In my religious training, I was fed guilt and fear for breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Adams told David Ritz in Essence. "Still, I was feisty. By the time I was 11, I was directing and accompanying four choirs. They all became my responsibilities. That's when I really went to work--and haven't stopped since."

Once in junior high school, Adams continued her musical training under Lee Farrell, a Juilliard-trained teacher and voice coach. Farrell continued to support and encourage Adams's career for many years. In the early '70s, she moved to Los Angeles to hit the big time. She spent $5,000 on a demo recording, but didn't get the attention she had hoped. With Farrell's assistance, Adams moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where she played piano bars, hotel lounges, and showrooms. Within a few years, she had become an institution at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crown Center, and even had her own billboard.

In 1982 she met her husband, drummer John Cushon, who became her support through the rough times. "John loved me before the success," Adams later told Ritz. "He's taken the journey with me.... Though he's still my drummer, we never let the personal interfere with the professional." While Adams played piano bars, she would meet other musicians as they came through town on tour. Some of these acquaintances even tried to launch her career. George Benson, for example, tried to help her get a contract with a record company for three years, but was unable to do so.

In 1985 Adams finally reached the break she wanted, although she was unaware of it at the time. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith from the British rock group Tears For Fears heard her play in the Hyatt Regency Hotel one evening. They said her voice made such an impact on them that she moved them to tears, yet they left that night without ever introducing themselves.

"It was just incredible, really, only three people--bass, piano, drums, and Oleta's voice, of course--yet she had us in tears," Orzabal told Keyboard. "The experience brought home how powerful music can be when it's at its most basic. That really got me going."

By the following year, Oleta Adams had become bitter about her career, and business had declined so much at the Hyatt that she broke up her four-piece band. Angry and dejected, she decided to go back to playing piano bars. But her slump didn't last for long. She rediscovered her religious roots, and used her strength in her beliefs to reset her priorities. Once she picked herself back up, she received a long-distance call from London in 1986. Orzabal and Smith asked her if she would travel to London to record the next Tears For Fears album and video. By the following year, she had a record deal of her own.

Oleta Adams's contribution to Tears For Fears' The Seeds of Love led her to join the duo on tour as well. In the group's "thank you's" on the LP sleeve, they recognized Oleta for "authenticating our soul." In 1990 Adams signed with the British label, Fontana Records and began recording her debut. Before the album's release, she was invited to perform at the Prince's Trust Gala charity benefit at Wembley Arena in London.

Originally released in the U.K., Circle of One launched Oleta Adams's European success. But within the year, she had a hit single in the United States with "Get Here," which Brenda Russell had written and recorded two years earlier. The song became an anthem of sorts during the Persian Gulf War, and Adams had cemented her arrival in her home country. By the end of 1990, she had landed "Circle of One" on the soundtrack for the film Sleeping with the Enemy.

On March 5, 1991, Oleta appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which assisted in propelling Circle of One up 10 places to number 20 on the Billboard Top 200. After 16 years of struggling as a lounge act, she finally received a gold album and later a platinum. "I laugh when people call me an overnight success, because you can tell from my performance that it's not overnight," Adams told Benilde Little in Essence. "I don't have that overnight wet-behind-the-ears style.... You get the feeling that I've sort of been around for a while." In 1992 Adams received a Grammy nomination for "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female."

After the success of her debut, Adams headed right back into the studio. She and Brenda Russell performed "Get Here" as a duet for the first time in a small Los Angeles club, but otherwise Adams spent her time recording. By August 3, 1993, she released her second LP, Evolution, and the single "I Just Had to Hear Your Voice."

"This album is a lot more romantic," Adams told Carrie Borzillo in Billboard. "That was the part that was missing from the first album. There were a lot of statements being made, and it showed off my abilities, but it didn't hit that sensuous zone." Jeremy Helligar wrote in his review in People Weekly, "Equal parts jazz chanteuse and choir belter, she sits at the piano, pouring the contents of her love-struck heart into her songs."

In 1994 Adams contributed "O Come All Ye Faithful" to the Joyful Christmas LP released on Columbia Records. She also teamed up with Brenda Russell on "We Will Find A Way" for the Corrina, Corrina soundtrack. Keeping her work schedule on high speed, she immediately embarked on her third album. This time, she increased her involvement in the process by producing two of the tracks herself.

Adams released Moving On on November 7, 1995, along with the single "Never Knew Love." As she matured in her career, she once again decided to explore her style. "This album is a real attempt to step outside myself and try some new things," she said in her record company biography. "The encouragement I've received to take more responsibility on myself has led to an album that not only sees me take control over complete songs for the first time, but one which, I think, re-emphasizes my R&B heritage."

As Adams kept her mouth to the microphone and her career in motion, she insisted on her ability to hold on to her foundation. "I would describe myself as down-to-earth: a person first, a woman second, a musician third, and add passionate to all of that," Adams told Lynn Norment in Ebony. "I'm passionate in life, love, music, and temperament, but I've learned to control my anger."

Adams told Carol Cooper in Billboard that she intends to maintain her motto of perseverance, in spite of her success. "I want to be identifiable to the public as a performer--a voice--that intends to stick around for a while."

by Thad Wawro

Oleta Adams's Career

Trained as a singer during childhood; led church choirs by age 11; recorded demo in Los Angeles, CA; moved to Kansas City, KS; played lounges and showrooms; discovered by Tears for Fears, 1985; recorded and released Tears for Fears' Seeds of Love, 1987-89; signed record contract with Fontana Records, 1990; released debut, Circle of One, 1990.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

Hi Oleta, You won't remember me but I was a student teacher at Davis High School in 1970. You were in Mrs Farrell's classes. I was involved with the production of Hello Dolly. Anyway, I just wanted to touch base with you. I know you are to busy to return any communication so I'll just say Hi. I am still teaching. Now in the elementary and have been for the last 14 years. I am close to retiring. The time has went quickly. I hope your life has been fulfilling and in listening to you sing online you still have that amazing gift. You sang a song for me when I left Davis. I made me cry with joy. Good luck in your future. Ed Davis

over 15 years ago

Your music has been part of my life since I heard you in KC at the Hyatt with my friend Karen Bacum. I hope you have had an incredible life and it has given you all that you have wished for. For the many times we sat up front in the Hyatt I thank you for the beautiful music you shared with us. It was nice to see your beginning and what a success you have become. Thank you

over 15 years ago

Hi Ms. Adams, I just wanted you to know that I love your voice! I was listening to the gospel station on TV the other day when I heard "O Come All Ye Faithful," and I said, I've got to get that song! I knew it was you because you have a distinctive voice that cannot be ignored. May the Lord continue to bless you. Ivy Harrell

almost 16 years ago

Hello Oleta and John, You both may not remember me but we were aqqaunted in KC. I new John through Kevin, (I'm Kelly who used to come watch you guys play) and was actually working at the hotel in the lounge the night Tears for Fears came in and heard Oleta. Anyway, just googled you guys and can't wait to get back into your music. It's been too long for sure. Hope you are still going strong. I've been in the Orlando area for the last 11 years but my hope is to get back to KC one day for good! As Dorothy said,"There's no place like home!" If you still live in the Shawnee area and ever go to Panzone's to eat, ask for my daughter, Cooper, she's been a fan since she was about 7, she's now 23! Circle of One is one of her favorite albums ever!! Oleta, your voice is so powerful and inspiring. Thank you for your annointing. You rock! All the best, Kelly MacKenzie (Parnell)