King Sunny Adé Biography And Music

“King” Sunny Adé (born Sunday Adeniyi, 22 September 1946) is a Nigerian musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and a pioneer of modern world music. He has been classed as one of the most influential musicians of all time. He was recently appointed as the “Change Begins With Me” campaign ambassador by the Nigerian minister of Information Lai Mohammed.


  • 1Background
  • 2Stage performances
  • 3A fusion of sounds
  • 4Island records
  • 5Collaborations
  • 6Grammy Awards
    • 6.11987 comeback
    • 6.22009 comeback
  • 7Hollywood career
  • 8Awards
  • 9Filmography
  • 10Discography
  • 11References


Adé was born to a Nigerian royal family in Ondo, thus making him an Omoba of the Yoruba people. His father was a church organist, while his mother was a trader. Adé left grammar school in Ondo under the pretense of going to the University of Lagos. There, in Lagos, his mercurial musical career started.

Sunny Adé’s musical sound has evolved from the early days. His career began with Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band. He left to form a new band, The Green Spots, in 1967. Over the years, for various reasons ranging from changes in his music to business concerns, Sunny Adé’s band changed its name several times, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury.

Stage performances

In the 1970s and 1980s Adé embarked on a tour of America and Europe. His stage act was characterised by dexterous dancing steps and mastery of the guitar.

After more than a decade of resounding success in his native Nigeria, Adé was received to great acclaim in Europe and North America in 1982. The global release of Juju Music and its accompanying tour was “almost unanimously embraced by critics (if not consumers) everywhere”. Adé was described in The New York Times as “one of the world’s great band leaders”, in Record as “a breath of fresh air, a positive vibration we will feel for some time to come” and in Trouser Press as “one of the most captivating and important musical artists anywhere in the world”

His next album, Syncro System (1983), was equally successful,earned him his first Grammy Award nomination in the ethnic/traditional folk recording category, hence making him the first Nigerian Grammy award nominee ever

A fusion of sounds

Sunny Adé’s music is characterised by, among other instruments, the talking drum – an instrument indigenous to his Yoruba roots, the guitar and his peculiar application to jùjú music,that would easily put him in the same class as guitar musicians like Santana. His music is in the age-old tradition of singing poetic lyrics (“ewi” in Yoruba) and praise of dignitaries as well components of Juju (traditional African belief) called the Ogede (casting a spell). Hence, Adé’s music constitutes a record of the oral tradition of his people for posterity.

Sunny Adé introduced the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music. He introduced the use of synthesizers, clavinet, vibraphone, tenor guitar into the jùjú music repertoire such as dub and wah-wah guitar licks. Adé said he used these instruments not as an attempt to innovate, but as a substitute for traditional jùjú instruments which were too difficult to find and/or impractical for touring. The pedal steel guitar, for instance, was added to his repertoire as a sound-alike for an African violin.

Island records

After the death of Bob Marley, Island Records began looking for another third world artist to put on its contract, while Fela Kuti had just been signed by Arista Records. Producer Martin Meissonnier introduced King Sunny Adé to Chris Blackwell, leading to the release of Juju Music in 1982. Robert Palmer claims to have brought King Sunny Adé to Island’s attention, his familiarity being from his life on Malta in the 60s listening to African Radio and Armed Forces Radio. Adé gained a wide following with this album and was soon billed as “the African Bob Marley”.

Sunny Adé has said that his refusal to allow Island to meddle with his compositions and over-Europeanise and Americanise his music were the reasons why Island then decided to look elsewhere.


Sunny has collaborated with major artists such as Manu Dibango (Wakafrika) and Stevie Wonder (played harmonica in Aura), as well as younger Nigerian artists such as Wasiu Alabi Pasuma and Bola Abimbola.

Sunny Adé’s brief recordings with Island Records opened the floodgates for other world music artists like Senegalese Youssou N’Dour, Mali’s Salif Keita and many others.

Grammy Awards

1987 comeback[edit]

In 1987, Sunny Adé returned to the international spotlight when  released a live concert he did in Seattle and was given an astonishing embrace by fans across the globe who were eager for another international album release.

He soon employed an American manager, Andrew Frankel, who negotiated another three album record deal with the Mesa record label (a division of Paradise Group) in America. One of these albums was 1988’s Odu, a collection of traditional Yoruba songs, for which he was nominated for the second Grammy Award and thus making him the first African to be nominated twice for a Grammy. Apart from being an international musician Sunny Adé is also prominent in his native Nigeria, running multiple companies in several industries, creating a non-profit organisation called the King Sunny Adé Foundation, and working with the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria.

In recent times, hip hop music appears to be holding sway with the electronic media in Nigeria with massive airplays. Nonetheless, Sunny Adé’s musical output has continued to inspire a vast generation of other Nigerian musicians, who believe in the big band musical set up which Sunny Adé and late Fela Kuti are noted for.The musician Lagbaja is one of the very many musicians whom Sunny Adé’s music has inspired. In 2008, his contributions to world music was recognised; as he was given an award for his outstanding contribution to world music at the International Reggae and World Music Awards held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

2009 comeback

At the beginning of another round of tour of the United States and Canada, Sunny Adé, now known as The Chairman in his home country, was appointed a visiting professor of music at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife.In July the same year King Sunny Adé was inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame, at the Brooklyn African Festival in the United States. He dedicated the award to the recently deceased Michael Jackson.

Hollywood career

In the 1980s Adé embarked on a career in Hollywood. His music was featured in the 1983 film Breathless, starring Richard Gere, and the 1986 comedy One More Saturday Night, and he acted in Robert Altman’s 1987 comedy O.C. and Stiggs.


Sunny Adé has received numerous awards during his career. In November 2016 he became a recipient of the AFRIMA award.In December 2016 he was inducted into Hard Rock Cafe hall of fame.


Film Role Year
Breathless King Sunny Adé (Music) 1983
One More Saturday Night King Sunny Adé (Music) 1986
O.C. and Stiggs King Sunny Adé (Music & appearance) 1987
Fifty King Sunny Adé (Music & appearance) 2015



  1. Jump up^ Gini Gorlinski, The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time ISBN 978-1-61530-006-8, Publisher: Rosen Education Service (January 2010)
  2. Jump up^ “King Sunny Ade Appointed As Change Begins With Me Ambassador”.
  3. Jump up^ “Ade,Sunny(Prince Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye) – Label, Juju, Tour, and Recording – JRank Articles”. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  4. Jump up^ Virginia Gorlinski (1 September 1946). “King Sunny Adé (Nigerian musician) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia”. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  5. ^ Jump up to: Sheridan, David (1989). Robbins, Ira A., ed. The New Trouser Press Record Guide (3rd ed.). New York: Collier/Macmillan. p. 4. ISBN 0-02-036370-2.
  6. Jump up^ George-Warren, Holly; Romanowski, Patricia, eds. (2001). The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 9780743220552. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  7. Jump up^ Pareles, Jon (15 May 1987). “MUSIC: King Sunny Ade and his band, from Nigeria”. The New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  8. Jump up^ Cohn, Stuart (June 1983). “King Sunny’s Healing Juju”. Record. 2 (8): 12.
  9. Jump up^ “Here Comes the Sun King” interview and essay, City Pages, 6 April 2005 Archived 27 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Jump up^ “King Sunny Ade – first Nigerian Grammy Award nominee”. Records Nigeria. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  11. Jump up^ mistune the No.2 string
  12. Jump up^ ‘My dad, Juju music star Ayinde Bakare, was murdered, his corpse dumped at Bonny Camp’ BY MIKE AWOYINFA ::: Pressclips Column :::
  13. ^ Jump up to:King Sunny Adé interview Archived 2009-07-04 at the Portuguese Web Archive by Jason Gross from Perfect Sound Forever site (June 1998)
  14. Jump up^ “Robert Palmer interview 1985 – Swimming against the current”. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  15. Jump up^ King Sunny Adé, 2005, interview by Sean Barlow and Banning Eyre from Afropop Worldwide
  16. Jump up^ Shanachie Entertainment
  17. Jump up^ Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music by Christopher Alan Waterman (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology)
  18. Jump up^ Mitter, Siddhartha (12 July 2009). “From pioneer to ambassador”. The Boston Globe.
  19. Jump up^ Archived 28 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Jump up^
  21. Jump up^ Video on YouTube
  22. Jump up^ “African Stars To Honour King Sunny Ade, Others At AFRIMA”. October 20, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  23. Jump up^ Akan, Joey (December 1, 2016). “Music legend gets inducted into Hard Rock hall of fame”. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  24. Jump up^ Qudus, Olabode (December 2, 2016). “King Sunny Ade Gets Inducted Into Hard Rock Hall Of Fame”. Hip Hop World Magazine. Retrieved December 10, 2016.


Juju Music

photo of King Sunny Ade


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