Oleta Adams (1953- )

Oleta Adams (Folly Theater, Kansas City)
Oleta Adams (Folly Theater, Kansas City)

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Sultry soulful vocalist, lyricist, composer, actor, and activist Oleta Adams was born on May 4, 1953 in Seattle, Washington, and began piano lessons at seven. When she was 11, her family moved to Yakima where she sang in the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church choir, where her father was the pastor. In addition, Adams was the piano accompanist for the church choir.

Adams graduated from Yakima’s Angus Charles Davis High School in 1971. She was offered a scholarship to study opera at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma but decided instead to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue a professional career in music.

In 1987, Adams was invited to join Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s English band Tears for Fears as a singer and pianist on their album The Seeds of Love. In 1989, Adams hit the Top 40 on the UK and US charts as the featured vocalist behind Tears for Fears’ single “Woman in Chains.” The following year, in 1990, she signed a contract with the British label Fontana Records. Her first album for the label, Circle of One, peaked at no. 11 on the R&B charts, 20 on Billboard 200, and no. 1 on the UK charts. More than 500,000 copies were sold worldwide. Her single, “Rhythm of Life” from that album peaked at no. 9 on R&B, 21 on the American charts and 52 on the UK charts. By the end of the year, the music was on the soundtrack for the film Sleeping with the Enemy.

In 1991, Adams contributed to the Elton John/ Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms, and the following year, in 1992, at the 34th Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Adams received a Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female” for the single “Get Here.” Her second album, Evolution, released later that year, peaked at no. 20 on the R&B chart and no. 67 on Billboard 200. It was a top-10 hit in the UK.

Adams married percussionist John Cushon in 1994 and then recorded her third studio album, Moving On, in 1995. It peaked at no. 49 on the R&B charts and 194 on Billboard 200. At the 39th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Gardens in New York, it received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album in 1997.

In 1997 Adams released the gospel-oriented album, Come Walk with Me, on Harmony Records. It peaked at no. 4 on the gospel charts and earned Adams a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall in 1998. Three years later, in 2001, Adams released the album All the Love on the Pioneer label, followed by I Can’t Live a Day Without You on Wave Music in 2004, and Let’s Stay Here on E1 in 2009.

In 2019, Oleta Adams, now a long-time resident of Kansas City, Kansas, was inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame in the Historic Jazz District’s sidewalks paved in bronze in Kansas City, Missouri.