National Portrait Gallery

Devotees

Sade (b.1959)

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Sade was born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria on January 16th 1959. Her father, Adebisi ‘Bisi’ Adu was an economics professor and mother, Anne Hayes, a nurse. With her mother and her brother, Sade moved to Colchester, Essex at the age of four. During her time at St Martin’s School of Art in London, where she studied fashion (and also modelled), Sade betrayed no desire to make music her future. This was despite fronting the Latin funk band, Arriva, and joining the eight-piece London collective, Pride.

It was during her time with Pride that Sade cut her musical teeth. Its members were encouraged to play outside the band and return with their external line-ups to perform as opening acts for the octet. When record company talent scouts spotted the band, they just wanted to sign Sade. Subsequent negotiations (that lasted more than a year) saw members encourage Sade, guitarist/keyboardist Stewart Matthewman and bassist Paul Spencer Denman to leave, and along with additional keyboardist Andrew Hale, sign with Epic Records under the name Sade.

Working with former lawyer-turned-producer Robin Millar (who would later found the Music Producers Guild), the quartet created Diamond Life (1984/Epic). The album was given a head start with the inclusion of ‘Smooth Operator,’ a song Sade had co-written with former Arriva band-mate Ray St John. The song created a blueprint for the band’s sound and less than six months after release, the album achieved platinum status in the UK. A second single, ‘Your Love Is King’, reached the UK Top Ten. Diamond Life had an enduring sales record, spending more than 80 weeks in the US Billboard charts and 98 weeks in the UK album listings. Its phenomenal sales led to wins at the 1985 Brit (Best Album) and Grammy (Best Newcomer) Awards, and Sade went on to perform at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium.

The band returned to the studio in 1985 to create Promise. Once again their work lived up to its album title and saw high sales – like that achieved by global hit single, ‘Sweetest Taboo’. A year later, Sade made her movie debut in the British film ‘Absolute Beginners’.

From then on, in the most important sales territories of Europe, America and the Far East, Sade were stars; consistent multi-platinum sellers and award winners. Sade managed to retain her personal anonymity despite the phenomenal global sales, and she moved to Madrid to ensure further privacy. Fittingly, few knew that she married, and subsequently divorced, Spanish filmmaker Carlos Scola.

The band reconvened to record and release Stronger Than Pride (1988). This was followed by Love Deluxe (1992), which included the tour de force single ‘No Ordinary Love’. The track was used in one of the most controversial films of the time, Robert Redford and Demi Moore’s Indecent Proposal. But just as tellingly as the band’s growing suitability for soundtracks, was their growing confidence. Until the release of Love Deluxe, Sade’s face had adorned their album covers, but for Love Deluxe she appeared topless and painted in gold. Sade, the band and the woman, had never been so ostentatious.

Taking time out from an exhausting pan-continental (Europe, Australia and Japan) and American arena tour, their label filled the gap with a The Best Of… collection (1994). During that time, Sade’s anonymity remained in tact - she gave birth to her daughter, Ila Morgan, in 1996. However, she couldn’t quell interest in February 1997 when she was arrested in Jamaica for reckless driving. International coverage peaked when it was reported that she had failed to appear in court and that a warrant had been issued for her arrest.

In 2000 the group released Lover’s Rock, a heady confection of romance, self-awakening and promise. The group’s return won The Best Vocal Performance at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, attracted a Soul Train nomination and saw the group named Favourite Artist – Adult Contemporary Music at the 2000 American Music Awards. Lover’s Rock went on to sell more than three million copies in America alone.

A sell-out US arena tour followed, showcasing more than 20 years’ worth of material. Sony capitalised on this, compiling the group’s first live album Lovers Live (2001), the strong sales of which inspired the bumper package Lovers Rock/Lovers Live CD/DVD (2003), featuring more than 30 tracks.

With a hold on her anonymity and band loyalty as tight as ever, Sade remains a ‘music first celebrity second’ artist. She recorded and donated the song Mum for the Voices of Darfur charity CD that accompanied the 2004 Royal Albert Hall concert that sought to raise awareness and refugees in the region.

esmeefairbain foundation and inspire  program