Although Sade is officially a group, for all intents and purposes vocalist Sade (pronounced "shar-day" or "shah-day") is Sade. Born in Nigeria, where her Nigerian father was an economics professor and her English mother a nurse, Sade Adu (her stage name) was educated in London. After studying fashion design, and later modeling briefly, Sade landed a spot as backup singer with the British R&B band Pride. There she formed a writing partnership with Pride's guitarist/saxophonist Stewart Matthewman; together, backed by Pride's rhythm section, they began doing their own sets at Pride gigs. Sade's elegant, exotic look and the cool, jazz-inflected approach of her low-keyed singing immediately garnered her considerable attention. In 1983 Sade and Matthewman split from Pride along with keyboardist Andrew Hale, bassist Paul Demna, and drummer Paul Cooke and formed Sade; they got a record deal late that year.
Although Sade's 1984 debut Diamond Life, with its single "Your Love Is Kind," quickly became a hit in Britain, the album wasn't released in the U.S. until 1985. Propelled by the bossa nova-tinged "Smooth Operator" (#5), Diamond Life (#5, 1985) rose to the Top 10; its popularity set the stage for the influx of "Quiet Storm" vocalists spearheaded by Anita Baker among others. Diamond Life featured strong original material by Sade and Matthewman including "Hang On to Your Love," and "When Am I Going to Make a Living" as well as an imaginative remake of Timmy Thomas' 1971 hit "Why Can't We Live Together."
Diamond Life had international sales of over 6 million copies, becoming one of the top-selling debut recordings of the '80s and the best-selling debut ever by a British female vocalist. In 1985 her statues as a major pop star was confirmed when Sade appeared at Wembley Stadium as part of Live Aid.
At the end of the year, Promise was released; the album went to #1 in the U.S> spawning the hits "The Sweetest Taboo" (#3) and "Never as Good as the First Time" (#8). Sade had a small part in the 1986 Julien Temple film Absolute Beginners and appears on its soundtrack.
Critics faulted 1988's Stronger Than Pride (#7) for musical sameness and emotional distance. Four years passed before the release of Love Deluxe (#3), whose brisk sales proved that Sade hadn't lost her appeal. An American tour to promote the release was also well received. Sade followed it with a best-of collection and an interactive CD-ROM and retreated to her home in Jamaica to have a baby in 1995. The following year, Matthewman, Denman, and Hale assumed the name Sweetback and released an album of the same name, calling in guest vocalists Maxwell and Amel Larrieux of Groove Theory.
Sade left Jamaica for London in 1997 and returned to the public scene in 2000 with the release of Lovers Rock (#3), which again found her teamed with Hale, Denman, and Matthewman.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).