- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 4 Mar
Ask Yolanda Adams what she loves about her music and ministry. The answer is as warm, embracing, and reflective as her songs. "The music brings joy. I truly believe that my songs bring the answers and the solutions, as opposed to just talking about the problems. My music at its core is joyful."
Joyful, uplifting, inspiring, affirmative, exuberant, playful, and universal in its appeal and intention—that is the music of Yolanda Adams. The message and ministry of this Grammy-winning Gospel/Adult Contemporary superstar is abundant with love, faith, rhythm, and wisdom. It is delivered by one of the most persuasive and popular voices in contemporary Gospel. Working with some of the biggest names in pop, R&B, hip-hop, and Gospel, Yolanda Adams's career has been marked by a string of hugely successful albums, sold-out tours, stand-out TV appearances, and a desire to incorporate into her music a multitude of genres and influences.
"It's vitally important to keep growing now that people know me and my music," she says. "We've been blessed enough to impact so many lives, both in and out of the typical Gospel market, so on each album it's important to keep reaching outward so that even more people can get inspiration from what we do. Luckily, I don't have to be anybody but Yolanda, because people don't expect me to be anything other than who I am. For an artist, it's a great place to be."
A lifelong resident of Houston, Texas, Yolanda grew up in a household filled with spirit, soul, and songs. Her mother studied music, and Yolanda and her five younger siblings heard everything from jazz to classical to rhythm and blues. She soaked up the sounds of Gospel legends James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, jazz icon Nancy Wilson, and pop/R&B great Stevie Wonder. That wide swath of sonic textures, combined with years in the church choir, would guide Yolanda—both as a performer and a person.
Word of Yolanda's talent began to make its way into the close-knit Gospel music community and before long the former schoolteacher caught the attention of the prolific composer/producer Thomas Whitfield. With his assistance, Yolanda recorded1987's Just As I Am, which was released on a small Gospel label. The album drew comparisons to Aretha Franklin and lead to subsequent releases on Tribute Records (now Verity Records). 1991's Through The Storm earned Yolanda several Stellar Awards. Four years later, the R&B-infused More Than A Melody garnered Yolanda her first Soul Train Lady of Soul Award and Grammy nomination. Along with the accolades, More Than A Melody "broke" Yolanda to a wider audience and established her as a force, in and out of the music industry.
Yolanda began to make a name as a live act and her galvanizing concerts became the stuff of legend. The excitement was captured on 1996's Yolanda … Live In Washington, which brought her another Stellar Award and another Grammy nomination, and lead to her signing with Elektra Records. Yolanda's first release on the mainstream powerhouse was 1999's groundbreaking Mountain High. . .Valley Low.
A testament not only to the power of faith but also the possibilities of collaboration, Mountain High … Valley Low was an album that preached not only to the converted but also to fans of urban music. Working with A-list producers like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Keith Thomas, Yolanda made the cross over without watering down or compromising her message, and fans and critics took notice. Typical of the reviews was one that stated, "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 would go multi-platinum, receive the Grammy in 2000 for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album and the first American Music Award for Inspirational Artist of the Year, win several Stellar Awards, and spawn the hugely successful Sisters In the Spirit Tour. That journey—also featuring Shirley Caesar, Mary Mary, and Angela Christie—became the inspiration for Yolanda's acclaimed second live collection, The Experience. That same year Yolanda also released her first holiday album, Christmas With Yolanda Adams, and gave birth to her daughter, whom Yolanda lovingly describes as "a very good child, in and out of the womb."
Motherhood didn't slow Yolanda down. With baby in tow, she continued to bring her praise songs to sold-out stages. In 2001, she entered the studio to record the richly satisfying Believe. That album—like her newest effort, Day By Day—reunited Yolanda with the innovative group of producers who had created Mountain High … Valley Low. "Whenever you work with people that you're familiar with, they know your heart and what you like," she notes. "They know what your message is and that you want to help people. So it's pretty cool to be able to work with your friends, and I've been blessed to do so in the past and on my new album."
2005's Day By Day marks Yolanda's first album for Atlantic Records. Due to restructuring at her label, she found herself on hiatus for nearly four years, though as she notes, "The great thing about Gospel is that you don't have to have an album every year in order to keep working." Yet despite the time off, Yolanda was far from idle. She kept touring and began to lay the groundwork for her Voice of an Angel Foundation, which focuses on mentoring high school students nationwide in order to help them find a career in education. The foundation received its non-profit certification in the winter of 2005 and will hold its maiden mentoring camp next summer. "Education is one of the greatest rewards for me—not only to instruct young people but also to mold them into great thinkers."
Yolanda is also heavily involved in other children's issues. She works closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources to ensure that kids in low-income areas receive immunizations. Along with that nationwide program, Yolanda lends her energy and commitment to a number of other child-based organizations, including The Children's Defense Fund and Houston charities such as juvenile diabetes and The Escape Center. "I'm very involved with kids because after being a teacher for seven years, I just can't stop loving the kids. I am a teacher forever."
With her unerring sense of humanity and her compassionate message, Yolanda Adams has touched audiences worldwide, and they in turn have made their impact upon her. "I believe that fans enhance your career. They draw out of me what they need and that's how I'm able to write the songs. It inspires me to feel their love and appreciation. It's like what Sally Fields said when she won the Oscar, "You like me! You really like me!" I never take that for granted, and each year and each album I am humbled that there are people who want to hear my songs. It's truly amazing." It's truly the grace and favor of God.