The Legacy of Sade Adu
By: Isis Benajmin


Sade Adu is the British-Nigerian lead singer, songwriter, composer, and record producer of the band known as Sade. The band’s musical style can be categorized as, but is not limited to smooth jazz, soul music, R&B, and quiet storm.  Sade’s international fame has been accredited to the band’s unique yet distinctive sound. Sade’s career describes a story of minimalism and precision accounting for their only six studio albums over the course of twenty six years.

Early Life

Helen Folasade Adu was born on January 16th, 1959 in Ibadan, Nigeria. She was born to Nigerian economics professor Adebisi Adu and English nurse Anne Hayes. At the age of four her parents split Helen, her mother and brother Banji moved to their grandparents’ home in Essex, England. While in England she grew up listening to American soul music and was particularly fond of Curtis Mayfield and The Jackson 5. At the age of eighteen she completed her education at Clacton County High School. Interested in a career in fashion, Helen enrolled in St. Martin’s School of Art in London. While in fashion school she sold clothing that she hand crafted to make extra money.

The Making of Sade the Band

After finishing a three year fashion course, Helen enjoyed a short-lived modeling career. From the 1981-1984 she became the backup singer and song writer for a North London Latin funk band known as “Pride”. While Helen admits that she was nervous performing alongside the band at first, she overcame her fear and found solace in songwriting. The group toured the U.K. for three years. During the tour she performed a Jazz quartet titled “Smooth Operator” which attracted the attention of numerous record companies During this time  guitarist Stuart Matthewman, keyboardist Andrew Hale, bassist Paul Denman, drummer Paul Cook, and Helen left Pride and formed the group known today as “Sade.” The group performed their first show on U.S. soil at the Danceteria in New York. It was Sade’s performance of “Smooth Operator” that attracted the attention of Epic Records. Originally, the record company only wanted Sade Adu, but refusing to part ways with the rest of the band she convinced the company to sign the entity. The band was officially signed in 1984.


Sade's Career

Sade’s debut album “Diamond Life”  was released on July 16th, 1984. The album reached number two on the UK Album Chart.  The album also reached international critical acclaim, having sold of over six million copies world wide. In 1985 the Alum won the Brit Award or Best British Album. “Smooth Operator”, which was the third single, became the most successful song in the US from the debut album. The track peaked at number five on the US Billboard Hot 100 and hit number one on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. “Your Love is King” was also a hit off the album, becoming the band’s first top 10 British hit. In 1985 Sade released their second studio album, “Promise.” The album’s two hit singles were “Never as Good as the First Time” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” The Sweetest Taboo rose to number three on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. In 1986 Sade won a Grammy for best new artist. 

In 1986 Sade Adu provided her acting and vocal abilities in the film “Absolute Beginners” as Athene Duncannon. Along side this she released her third album “Stronger than Pride” in 1988 which went on to become certified platinum three times. “Love Deluxe” (1992) and “The Best of Sade” (1994) were the final albums released by Sade before there eight year hideous. On November 13th, 2000 Sade released their fifth studio album “Lovers Rock.” The album earned Sade the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album. It also became certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Sade made a rare appearance to recieve h

In 2002 the band released their first live album titled Lovers Live, recorded by Epic Records. This same year, Sade herself made a rare appearance to the Buckingham Palace to receive her honorary award as appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music.

After an eight year hiatus the band returned in 2010 with the  “Soldier of love” album which set record scores for a band that took such a long hiatus. The album’s single “Soldier of Love” won the 2011 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo With Vocals. More recently, Sade has collaborated with director Ava DuVernay, director of the movie “A Wrinkle in Time” on an acoustic ballad titled “Flower of the Universe.”

Personal Life

In the late 1980’s although Sade’s three albums were selling millions of copies across the world, Helen’s home life was far from glorious. During this time Sade Adu was living in a cold converted apartment with her then boyfriend, style journalist, Robert Elms. . For the past 20 years, Sade has prioritized her personal life over her professional career. She married Spanish film director Carlos Scola Pliego in 1989, however the two later divorced. In 1997 Sade gave birth to Mickailia “Ila” Adu, son of Jamaican music producer, Bob Morgan.

Sade Adu's Philosophy

Sade;’s sophisticated, yet elegant beauty made her the female face of the decade in the 1980’s. Magazine companies such as Vogue were elated to have her as their magazine cover photo. However, Sade has stated that she has never enjoyed promotion of any type. This is visible as Sade Adu has remained a private individual for the majority of her career. 

Sade remains principled in her stance that performing in front of a crowd live, is much more satisfying than television or video performances. Along with this, Sade believes that the authenticity of her work is crucial to her integrity as an artist. She states, “I only make records when I feel I have something to say. I’m not interested in releasing music just for the sake of selling something. Sade is not a brand.” 



Sade’s ballads have been remixed into club classics across the world. Her legacy can be found across all genres of music including Hip hop. Artists such as Jay-z have repeatedly sampled her music. Rapper Rakim of Eric B. & Rakim and Talib Kweli have also considered Sade as a notable voice of influence for their music. “Queen B” Beyoncé herself considers Sade’s music a “true friend.” The late singer Aaliyah noted that she admired Sade because “she stays true to her style no matter what… she’s an amazing artist, an amazing performer… and I absolutely love her.” 

Works Cited

“Biography.” Sade | Official website for the British iconic band, Sony Music Entertainment,, Jacob. 

“Sade’s Quiet Storm of Cool.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Oct. 2017,

“Biography.” IMDb,,

“Sade’s Biography – Free listening, videos, concerts, stats and photos at Last.Fm.”, wiki.

“20 Artists Reflect on the Enduring Inspiration of Sade.” V Magazine, 7 Sept. 2016,

Lindvall, Helienne. “Behind the music: the secrets of Sade’s success.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 May 2011,

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