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Central Standard

Making Kansas City Her Home Is One Way Singer Oleta Adams Stays Grounded

Oleta Adams
Folly Theater
Oleta Adams is scheduled to perform at the Folly Theater on November 17.

A Grammy-nominated singer and pianist who has traveled the world performing blues and gospel music has a pretty simple answer for the question of why she still lives in Kansas City.

"Why not?"

Oleta Adams tried living other places that people might more quickly associate with an internationally recognized performer, but it just didn't seem practical.

"My first record deal was with a London company, and as far as I was concerned, if you're going to be in the air most of the time anyway, why not stay in the middle of America?" Her practical side also appreciated getting "more bang for the buck" here.

"I love living the lifestyle of a small town that doesn't know it," Adams told Gina Kaufmann, host of KCUR's Central Standard. "This is a great place to live, and if the whole world doesn't know it, that doesn't bother me."

Kansas City is not her original hometown. Adams spent her childhood in the state of Washington and traveled around the country as a performer. But Kansas City served as the backdrop for what some might deem her big break. After moving to the area from Los Angeles in the 1980s, Adams started performing at the Hyatt in Crown Center after the fatal skywalk collapse in 1981. 

"They asked me to come because people had stopped patronizing the place. I had somewhat of a following," Adams said, explaining that the Hyatt was "once a real scene."

It was there that band members from the English pop-rock band Tears for Fears heard her sing. They later tracked her down to be part of their album, and Adams was featured prominently in the song "Woman in Chains."

Adams' work with the group helped her land own record deal. Her 1990 debut was "Circle of One," with its hit "Get Here if You Can." One of the record's champions was Oprah Winfrey, Adams said, who "was instrumental" in pushing it to platinum.

"The rest is history," Adams said.

She's since put out ten more records, touring with Tears for Fears, Luther Vandross, Phil Collins, Michael Bolton and Lthe most recent being last year's "Third Set."

Earlier this month, she performed a sold-out show with the Bremen Philharmonic in Germany where her sold-out concert with the Bremen Philharmonic orchestra was "the most incredible concert I've ever had. I think they're still standing up right now!" she said with a laugh. "It was lovely. We had a very emotional night."

And there's history still to be written. Tickets are now on sale for Adams' November 17 performance marking the re-opening of the historic Folly Theater after a $2.5 million renovation.

Adams said her greatest accomplishment was to still be working.

"This is probably around the 48th year of my professional career, and I'm still working and I'm still true to myself," Adams said.

"When I appeared with the Kansas City Symphony a few years back, my orthodontist came and he was so proud. He said, 'Wow, I couldn't believe it. You were talking to us just like we were in your living room.' And I said, 'Yeah, why not?' We're just, we're people. I happen to sing, and you do what you do. But other than that, you know, this isn't something where I consider myself put up on a pedestal. I don't live that life."

Listen to Oleta Adams' entire conversation with Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard

Kathleen Pointer is a digital and associate producer for KCUR's talk shows, Up To Date and Central Standard. Reach out to her at kathleenp@kcur.org or find her on Twitter @kathleenpointer