Stage name pronounced "Shar-day"; full name Helen Folasade Adu; born 1959 in Ibadan, Nigeria; daughter of Adebisi (an economics professor) and Anne (a nurse) Adu. Education: Graduated from St. Martin's College of Art, London, ca. 1979. Addresses: Office-- c/o CBS Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y., 10019; Other-- 103 Nortimer St., London W1, England.

"Sade's music ... is so hot because it sounds so cool," declared critic Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek. The Nigerian-born British singer has risen rapidly to prominence with her first two albums, Diamond Life and Promise; both went platinum. Her sound is "one that has definite jazz overtones but is mixed with a pop flavor and a hint of passion," according to Walter Leavy in Ebony, and it has captured the imagination of music fans and reviewers alike, particularly those in the young professional grouping. Sade is responsible for the huge hit singles "Smooth Operator" and "The Sweetest Taboo," and she won a Grammy in 1986 as the year's best new artist.

Sade was born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, to a British mother and a Nigerian father. Her stage name, a shortened form of her middle name, was adopted almost immediately, because her Nigerian neighbors refused to call her by the English name Helen. Sade remained in Nigeria until she was four years old, when her parents separated and her mother took her and her older brother to England. The family stayed with Sade's grandparents in a small village in Essex, then moved to Holland-on-Sea when Sade's mother remarried. Despite the fact that the young girl and her brother were the only children of black descent in the area and Sade was sometimes the target of racial slurs, she had a comfortable circle of friends with whom she went dancing. As a teenager, however, she had no professional musical aspirations. She told a Washington Post interviewer: "Obviously I've stood in front of the mirror with a hairbrush just like anyone. But that was the extent of it." Sade and her friends enjoyed funk and soul music, and she particularly admired the work of Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and the late Marvin Gaye. She also liked singing along with her mother's record collection, which included the albums of Frank Sinatra and Dinah Washington.

By the time she was seventeen Sade had discovered a desire to become a fashion designer, and when she graduated from high school she enrolled in St. Martin's College of Art in London. She worked her way through school by waitressing and serving as a bicycle messenger, but she still found time to enjoy dancing in the London nightclubs. When Sade obtained her degree, she and another woman tried to keep a men's fashion designing business afloat, but it was difficult, as she explained to the Washington Post: "You can't make things at a reasonable cost.... Everything was economic. It stunted any creativity, and I ended up not enjoying it." Another thing Sade did not enjoy was the modeling work she did at that time to help support herself. Though since her emergence on the music scene she has been lauded almost as much for her sleek, slim, elegant look as for her songs, she confided to a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail: "I'm quite anti-fashion in a sense. I hate it when everyone starts wearing the same clothes simply because that's what's supposed to be in this year."

Sometime in the early 1980s, when Sade had given up on modeling in disgust, a friend persuaded her to try out as a backup singer for a group specializing in jazz and funk, Pride. Thinking that singing would be a pleasant hobby, she auditioned, and though she was rejected at first, she was called back when no one more suitable could be found. Pride never earned a recording contract, but did gain a following in the London nightclubs--a following that grew when Sade began to team up with fellow Pride member and saxophone player Stuart Matthewman to write songs. The two performed their creations in special sets aside from the rest of Pride, and these sets began to win Sade fans of her own. When Pride disbanded, the group's manager, Lee Barrett, became Sade's manager, and Sade and Matthewman recruited backup musicians.

Sade was signed by Epic Records in 1983. Her first album, Diamond Life, met with acclaim in England, and the first hit from it was "Your Love is King." But while a dance tune from Diamond Life, "Hang On to Your Love," received some play in New York City discos, CBS/Portrait Records, who held Sade's U.S. contract, did not release the album until 1985 because they feared it would not have the same popular appeal that it did in England. When Diamond Life was released in America, it shot up the charts quickly, first propelled by "Smooth Operator," then by "Your Love is King." Sade's debut album also sold well in Europe, and with six million copies of Diamond Life sold worldwide, she had become an international star by the end of 1985.

It was at about this time that Sade released her second album, Promise. When Diamond Life was beginning to fade from the charts, Promise began to climb them. The biggest hit from the album was what Stephen Holden called a "delicately spicy love ballad," "The Sweetest Taboo," but other songs, such as "Maureen" and "Never as Good as the First Time," were successful as well. But while many critics were singing Sade's praises and lauding her cool, understated style, other reviewers were sounding notes of dissent. McGuigan pointed out that Sade's work is "very similar in feeling and pace. Perhaps too similar: for all the dark, lush glamour of the sound, Sade has yet to show a wide range in style or voice." And Leavy agreed that "questions about her musical ability do pop up from time to time." But Barry Walters argued in Village Voice that Sade's method of "never letting go, simmering but never boiling" when interpreting her songs is what makes her distinct from the other stars of popular music. Her style continues to attract fans: in 1988 Sade's third album, Stronger Than Pride, brought forth the hit single "Nothing Can Come Between Us."

by Elizabeth Thomas

Sade's Career

Singer, songwriter, 1982--. Backup singer for Pride, ca. 1982; solo performer, 1983--; signed with Epic Records, 1984. Appeared in film Absolute Beginners, 1986.

Sade's Awards

Two platinum albums; Grammy Award for best new artist, 1986; named one of the ten most elegant women in the world by Elle magazine.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 14 years ago

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