Sade, real name Helen Folasade Adu, is a Nigerian-born British singer best known for her sophisticated blend of soul, funk, jazz, and Afro-Cuban rhythms. In the 1980s and early 1990s, she received widespread critical acclaim and popularity.
Adu, the daughter of a Nigerian economics professor and an English nurse, was never addressed by her English first name, Helen, in her community. Her parents began referring to her as Sade, a diminutive of her Yoruba middle name, Folasade. Her parents divorced when she was four years old, and she moved to Essex, England, with her mother and younger brother.
Sade began a three-year fashion and design program at Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design in London when she was 17 years old. She modeled and worked as a menswear designer after graduating. Her musical career began when she agreed to fill in temporarily as lead singer for Arriva, a funk band formed by her friends.
Sade later sang with another funk band, Pride, before forming the band that would eventually bear her name with fellow Pride members Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale, and Paul Spencer Denman.
Sade’s smooth sound was exemplified by the songs “Your Love Is King” and “Smooth Operator,” both from the group’s debut album Diamond Life (1984), which earned Sade and her bandmates a Grammy Award for best new artist. Promise (1985), a second album, achieved similar success and was followed by a world tour.
The album included the hit song “The Sweetest Taboo,” which spent six months on the American pop charts. Sade embarked on a second world tour in 1988 to promote the release of her third album, Stronger Than Pride.
Sade released Love Deluxe in 1992, which included the Grammy-winning single “No Ordinary Love.” Sade relished life away from the spotlight following a subsequent world tour. She became a mother while the other members of her band, Sweetback, released solo material. The group reformed to create the critically acclaimed Lovers Rock (2000), which won a Grammy for best pop vocal album.
Sade embarked on a highly successful world tour in 2001, portions of which were featured on Lovers Live (2002). Sade’s first album of original material in a decade found the band incorporating new instrumentation and rhythms while maintaining the smooth vocals that had defined it since the 1980s.
Soldier of Love (2010)’s Grammy-winning title track incorporated martial beats and harsh guitars, and critics praised the trip-hop and reggae influences that coloured Sade’s trademark soulful melodies.
Following another hiatus, Sade contributed the song “Flower of the Universe” to the A Wrinkle in Time film soundtrack (2018). In 2002, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 2018, she was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).