YOLANDA ADAMS has accomplished what few singers before her have ever achieved: The ability to attract fans from all walks of life without ever straying from the intricate roots that nurtured her Grammy-winning voice in the first place.
The cornerstone of her amazing career so far - 1999's platinum-plus, award winning Elektra Records debut, Mountain High…Valley Low (Yolanda once described it as her 'coming out album') established her as an undisputed Gospel siren - one of the key figures of the genre's bold renaissance. Yolanda's impressive musical range and undeniable charisma helped liberate Gospel music's more formal, traditional image. She's also displayed the kind of vocal immediacy and vulnerability possessed by few pop singers. Her show stopping October 2001 performance of the classic song "Imagine," on TNT's Come Together: A Night For John Lennon as well as her performances on Oprah, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View and countless others, sealed her reputation as Gospel's most transcendent ambassador.
Honored with an incredible array of awards within the last 2 years alone, including 2000's Grammy award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album, five Stellar Awards, two Soul Train Lady Of Soul Awards, and five NAACP Image Awards, Yolanda followed up with last year's holiday gift to her fans, Christmas With Yolanda Adams, and 2001's acclaimed live album, The Experience. Now, after intense collaboration with some of the most revered producers working today, Yolanda steps back into the arena with her first collection of new material in three years - the incredible 12-song masterpiece - Believe.
"I always get asked the same question," says Yolanda, who takes an appreciative but modest attitude in regard to her ever-widening audience. "'Will you get tired of Gospel?' 'Is there a temptation to do something else?' My answer has always been the same. 'No way.' I'm a Gospel artist. There's no confusion about that. I like to sing songs that in the end touch everybody. There's a humanity to these songs that gets in your blood."
Believe runs deep with that humanity. Emboldened by another lineup of great producers - Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who also produced her multi-format smash hit "Open My Heart" which spent most of 2000 at #1 on Billboard's Gospel and Contemporary Christian charts), Shep Crawford, Kevin Bond, Mike City, Warryn Campbell and Buster & Shavoni - Yolanda raises the musical bar on this one, strengthening her own formidable song writing skills to meet the challenges she places on herself. "I like to work with great people because it makes me work harder," she says.
Yolanda points out that working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis was a long awaited reunion. The superstar duo helms three songs on the new disc - "I'm Gonna Be Ready," "Never Give Up," and the album's in-your-face closer, "I'm Thankful." The angelic, inspiring "Never Give Up" shines as one of Yolanda's most tender ballads, singing heartfelt lines such as: Keep the dream alive don't ever let it die. "It was a joy to write. Getting together with Jimmy and Terry was like having a reunion with your big brothers," she says. "They have such great spirit and heart. I believe we'll be collaborating for the rest of my career. When we get together, it's so natural, it's like 'OK, I have this title - I have this verse - what do you have?'"
On Believe, Yolanda switches musical gears from song to song with an amazing ability to complement each producer's unique style. She talks about some of the diverse ingredients on Believe. "There's Mike City ("A Song Of Faith," "Unconditional") who is very good with taking risks - he's a young cat who you know is going to bring some real progressive ideas," she says. "And then you have someone like Shep Crawford ("I Gotta Believe," "Fo' Sho") who lets you get in there and really express yourself." The latter song features a duet with Gospel legend and recently signed Elektra artist Karen Clarke Sheard - of the Clarke Sisters. "I have been a fan of hers since I was 11 years old," says Yolanda. "I was so thrilled that she could contribute something to this record. It's so wonderful when you have the opportunity to actually show your appreciation to one of your influences."
Yolanda's incredible rise has been about honoring those influences, but also never being afraid to - as she puts it - "spread my wings." Her road to the top of the musical 'mountain' has been filled with the kind of conviction that now causes a new generation of singers to cite her as an influence. A former schoolteacher and avid church singer, the Houston Texas native - and the eldest of six siblings - diligently pursued a singing career.
She caught the eye of prolific composer/producer Thomas Whitfield, who helmed her first-ever record with the prophetic title, Just As I Am in 1987. It wasn't too long before the young singer was drawing comparisons to Aretha Franklin. Subsequent albums (on Gospel labels Verity and Tribute), including 1991's Through The Storm, netted Yolanda several Stellar Awards, and 1995's R&B flavored, award-winning More Than A Melody would establish her as a force to be reckoned with - Gospel or otherwise. The latter disc garnered Yolanda her first Soul Train Lady Of Soul Award, as well as her first Grammy nomination.
Yolanda also began to establish herself as one of the genre's most sought after live attractions. Her incredible performances would soon become legendary throughout the entire music industry. Her 1996 album Yolanda… Live In Washington furthered her reputation as a one-of-a-kind performer, and landed her yet another Stellar Award and another Grammy nomination. But it was the ground breaking Elektra debut, Mountain High…Valley Low that would change Yolanda's life forever.
A veritable testament to Yolanda's tremendous faith, it was also a nod to her incredible musical savvy. Enlisting producers such as Keith Thomas and the above-mentioned Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Yolanda saw the move to Elektra as a chance to expand her reach without "watering down" her message. Only her seventh album, it captured the amazing potential of Yolanda without sacrificing her commitment to God. Said one rave review: "Much of the album recalls Stevie Wonder or Bob Marley, where spirituality is at the center but it doesn't limit the musical expression."
The album spawned a host of sold out tours, such as her Sisters In The Spirit Tour (with Gospel superstars Shirley Caesar, Mary Mary and Angela Christie), from which her live CD, The Experience, was born. There was no doubt that Yolanda's inventive, unforgettable performances were attracting new and old fans alike.
Despite all the accolades Yolanda's crowning achievement was the birth of her baby girl, Taylor Ayana. Says Yolanda about that 'experience': "You really don't know what love is until you have a child. No matter how tired I am after a show or how distracted I might be after a long recording session - all I have to do is see her little smile and I know everything is right in the world."
With the completion of Believe, Yolanda is again excited by the prospects of sharing her new music with the world. "I've grown as a songwriter and a performer and I'm eager to spread those creative wings again," she says. Aware that the country may be hungering even more for a spiritual message these days, Yolanda's album title hints at what the new disc can offer in the way of spiritual redemption. "Music has always been a potent force. I'm proud that this album addresses the spectrum of life. It deals with struggles and relationships and sadness and joy. Our music - Gospel music - has always been a comfort to those who are looking for some kind of encouragement in their lives."