Raised as the oldest of six siblings in Houston, Texas, Adams grew up in a household where she was exposed to musical influences ranging from Classical to Gospel to Motown. She sang throughout her teen years and continued performing on weekends following her graduation from college even as she began a career teaching elementary school. Soon she began to garner significant note as a singer and made the decision to give up teaching to perform full-time. Her work as the lead singer of the Southeast Inspirational Choir attracted the attention of Thomas Whitfield and Sound of Gospel Records, for which she recorded her debut album Just As I Am in 1988. Her strong, soulful voice and striking beauty scored quickly with Gospel audiences, and the debut hit the Gospel top 10. She moved to Tribute Records in 1990 and began a string of top 10 Gospel albums that made her a staple on Gospel radio and awards shows, though with little crossover to pop or urban radio.
A decade after her arrival, Adams received her first significant attention outside the Gospel realm with her signing by Elektra Records and the release of Mountain High...Valley Low in 1999. Working with hot producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men), Warryn Campbell (Mary Mary) and Keith Thomas (BeBe and CeCe Winans), Adams released an extremely contemporary urban album that nonetheless sounded timeless moral and spiritual themes that clicked with pop and urban audiences. Urban Adult Contemporary radio loved the ballad "Open My Heart," but the album bore a basket of great cuts, including the uptempo "Time to Change" and "Yeah" and the beautiful song of loss and faith, "Fragile Heart." After a decade of charting only in the Gospel world, Adams found herself with a top 5 R&B and top 40 Pop hit that stayed on the charts for over a year. It also won for Adams her first Grammy, a well deserved "Best Contemporary Soul Gospel" award.
After releasing a Christmas album, Adams followed up Mountain High with Believe, a safer, less ambitious disc that scored moderately with "Never Give Up," but failed to match the critical accomplishment of its predecessor (though it also won a Grammy). A live album later that year, The Experience, was better, and captured her magnetic stage performance, scoring with a cover of R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" and "In the Midst of it All."
Adams then took a four year hiatus that included both a new baby and an unfortunate divorce, as well as work as a spokesperson for the FILA Corporation's Operation Rebound program, addressing the concerns of inner city school children.
Over the next few years, Adams continued to record with somewhat less success, most recently on 2011's Becoming, even as she grew as a radio show host with her Yolanda Adams Morning Show, which is broadcast in over three dozen radio markets.
By Chris Rizik
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