When Sade first came on the recording scene in the '80s, her record company, Epic, made a point of printing pronounced shar-day after her name on the record labels of her releases. Soon enough the world would have no problem in correctly pronouncing her name. Born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, about 50 miles from Lagos, she was the daughter of an African father and an English mother. After her mother returned to England, Sade grew up on the North End of London.
Developing a good singing voice in her teens, Sade worked part-time jobs in and outside of the music business. She listened to Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holliday. Sade studied fashion design at St. Martin's School of Art in London while also doing some modeling on the side.
Around 1980, she started singing harmony with a Latin funk group called Arriva. One of the more popular numbers that the group would perform was a Sade original co-written with bandmember Ray St. John, Smooth Operator, that would later become Sade's first stateside hit. The following year she joined the eight-piece funk band Pride as a background singer. The band included future Sade band members guitarist/saxophonist Stuart Matthewman (a key player in '90s urban soul singer Maxwell's success) and bassist Paul Denman. The concept of the group was that there could shoot-offs. In essence, a few members within the main group Pride formed mini-groups that would be the opening act. Pride did a lot of shows around London, stirring up record company interest. Initially, the labels wanted to only sign Sade, while the group members wanted a deal for the whole band. After a year, the other band members told Sade, Matthewman, and Denman to go ahead and sign a deal. Adding keyboardist Andrew Hale, the group signed to the U.K. division of Epic Records.