Born Helen Folasade Adu on January 16, 1959, in Ibadan, Nigeria; raised in Clacton, Essex, England; daughter of Adebisi (an economics professor) and Anne (a nurse) Adu; married Carlos Scola (a filmmaker), c. 1990; divorced, 1991; children: daughter, with Bob Morgan (a record producer), 1996. Education: Bachelor of arts degree from St. Martin's College of Art, London, 1979. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.
"Sade's music ... is so hot because it sounds so cool," declared critic Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek. The Nigerian-born British singer rose rapidly to prominence with her first two albums, Diamond Life and Promise; both have gone multiplatinum. 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. Sade is responsible for the hit singles "Smooth Operator" and "The Sweetest Taboo," and she has won three Grammy Awards, including one for Best Pop Vocal Album for Lovers Rock in 2002.
Sade was born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, to a British mother and 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 Sade 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 17, Sade had discovered a desire to become a fashion designer. 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."
Started as Backup Singer
During 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 called 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 contract in the United States, 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.
Had a Hit with "The Sweetest Taboo"
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 the 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, generated the hit single "Nothing Can Come Between Us."
During what was her longest break from music yet, the rumors of events in Sade's personal life multiplied; they were generally about depression, divorce, drugs, and her physical state. Then, there was a problem with the Jamaican authorities that served as fodder for the tabloid press: Sade failed to pull over when signaled by Jamaican police, and continued to lead them on a highspeed chase which ended in her cursing the police, resisting arrest, and then fleeing the country before her court date because of a mysterious illness her daughter had. Sade pled not guilty and contends that the car, with her mother and daughter as passengers, was stationary at the time of the supposed "chase," and that the authorities just wanted a bribe that she would not give. She also says they were angered when she would not sign a document that said she had committed the offense. There remains an outstanding arrest warrant in Jamaica, should Sade return.
Success Followed Extended Break
After an eight-year break, Sade returned in 2000 with a new album for the new millennium called Lovers Rock. She followed the popularly successful release, which debuted on the Billboard charts at number three, with her first tour in over a decade, and then released the live album Lovers Live in 2002. The debut single from Lovers Rock, "By Your Side," was a hit with audiences. Lovers Rock earned her a Grammy Award and an American Music Award in 2002 and nominations for a BRIT Award for Best British Female Solo Artist, Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Female Artist, Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Best R&B Solo Album, and a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
When asked to explain her extended hiatus, Sade replied to Essence's Lonnae Parker, "I just feel, for me as a person, it is essential to be a part of the world, to actually be with family and friends. Not to be removed from the essential stuff of life." She also pointed out that she never intended to be a singer or wanted fame. "I think you should make an album only when you've got something to say. I don't have to make an album every year to stay in the limelight or to fulfill other people's expectations of me," she told Harper's Bazaar's William Shaw. Sade does not like to be away from her home in England and her daughter and would opt to be anonymous as a singer-songwriter. Her main ambition, in fact, has nothing to do with her career, but with being a good mother.
Sade is still "effortlessly elegant." She not only has captured audiences for nearly 20 years with her jazzy songwriting and smoky voice, but has remained the classic anti-diva of chic. She has popularized hoop earrings and pulled-back hair--including the sleek ponytail--and established her trademark "next to naked" freckled skin, fire-engine red lips, and perfectly sculpted eyebrows. As the ARTISTDirect website aptly summed up: "Her work embodies timeless qualities of elegance, understatement, taste and passion, while remaining completely contemporary in sound and attitude."
by Elizabeth Thomas
Men's fashion designer, stylist, and model, c. 1979-82; singer, songwriter, 1982-; backup singer for Pride, c. 1982; solo performer, 1983-; signed with Epic Records, released debut album, Diamond Life, 1984; appeared in film Absolute Beginners, 1986; went on third and most lengthy hiatus, 1992-2000; returned with Lovers Rock, 2000.
Grammy Awards, Best New Artist, 1986, and Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group for "No Ordinary Love," 1994; Order of the British Empire (OBE) honors, 2002; American Music Award, Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist, 2002; Grammy Award, Best Pop Vocal Album for Lovers Rock, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Diamond Life , Portrait, 1985.
- Promise , Portrait, 1985.
- Stronger Than Pride , Portrait, 1988.
- Love Deluxe , Epic, 1992.
- The Best of Sade , Sony, 1994.
- Lovers Rock , Epic, 2000.
- Lovers Live , Sony, 2002.
- The Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
- Down Beat, August 1985.
- Ebony, May 1986.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 1997, p. 15.
- Essence, March 2001, pp. 42, 48a.
- Harper's Bazaar, January 2001, p. 68.
- Newsweek, March 25, 1985.
- New York Times, November 27, 1985.
- People, February 3, 1986; July 6, 1998, p. 79.
- Rolling Stone, April 25, 1985; May 8, 1986.
- Village Voice, December 31, 1985.
- Washington Post, December 12, 1985.
- All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 1, 2002).
- ARTISTDirect, http://imusic.artistdirect.com (April 3, 2002).
- Biography Resource Center, Gale Group, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (April 1, 2002).
- MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com (April 1, 2002).
- Recording Industry Association of America, http://www.riaa.org (April 1, 2002).
- Rock on the Net, http://www.rockonthenet.com (April 3, 2002).