Helen Folosade Adu, known to millions as simply Sade, was born in Ibadan, Nigeria but raised in Colchester, Essex, an unremarkable English backwater, after her mother separated from her Nigerian father when Sade was four. She grew up listening to soul legends—Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye—and wanted to be a drummer before becoming convinced that she’d be a writer. Instead she ended up in art school. “I wanted to do painting but I ended up in fashion ’cause I wanted to make a living out of it, to have a trade, which was very much how I was brought up. But I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t reverent about fashion, I didn’t love it at all.”
But where she did fit in was music. Here smooth grooves on some classic hits has led her to sell over 50 million records worldwide.
A small, yet important, fact: When Sade signed her first record deal with Epic in the early 1980s, she accepted a small advance, worth roughly only $80,000, in exchange for an unusually high cut of sales for a new artist: 15 percent. It was a deal that ended up proving immensely lucrative, and it has freed her from many of the commercial demands that often encumber artists. To put it simply, she only works when and how she wants to. As one executive at her label, Epic, told the New York Times: “Who’s going to argue with a woman who’s sold 50 million albums? She’s more powerful than anyone working at the label, including the [President].”
But, it’s hard to believe that one of the smoothest voices to ever hit the stage could ever be nervous. After all, she’s performed before tens of thousands of sold-out crowds and has a cult following of loyal fans.
But the 61-year-old singer was nervous. And still does get nervous. each time she hits the stage.
“It was the chaos of getting ready psychologically to go out there,” Sade said in an interview about what it takes mentally to get ready for a show.
“I was so stressed. … That impression that you give onstage is what people go away with… I had to get it right.”
As the leader of the veteran group, she and her band mates do have a lot to live up to: platinum-selling albums and singles such as “Sweetest Taboo,” “Is It A Crime,” and “Soldier of Love,” as well as Grammy-winning albums and a slew of successful tours.
“You sort of feel like you’re a gladiator going out there because even though you know most of these people have come from a good place and they love your music and they come with a feeling of love, which is what you walk away with,” explains Sade. “It’s a bit like being thrown at the lions when you go out there because you have this sort of fear, even though it’s irrational, (that) you’re going to get torn apart, so you go out and you have to be good.”
When it comes to keeping healthy, Sade, sort of like her signature fashion style, keeps it simple.
“I do move a lot,” she admits. “I’m always doing stuff. I don’t lounge around much. I’m always moving and I’m always active…