Adam Wade, Network Game Show Pioneer, Is Dead at 87

Adam Wade, a versatile, velvet-voiced crooner who scored three consecutive Billboard Top 10 hits in a single year, appeared in scores of films, plays and TV productions, and in 1975 became the first Black host of a network television game show, died on Thursday at his home in Montclair, NJ He was 87.

His wife, Jeree Wade, a singer, actress and producer, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

In May 1975, CBS announced that it would break a network television racial barrier by naming Mr. Wade the master of ceremonies of a weekly afternoon game show, “Musical Chairs.”

Staged at the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan and co-produced by the music impresario Don Kirshner, the program featured guest musical performances, with four contestants competing to complete the lyrics of songs and respond to questions about music. (Among the guest performers were groups like the Spinners and singers like Irene Cara.)

The novelty of a Black MC was not universally embraced: A CBS affiliate in Alabama refused to carry the show, and hate mail poured in — including, Mr. Wade said Connecticut Public Radio in 2014, a letter from a man “saying he didn’t want his wife sitting at home watching the Black guy hand out the money and the smarts.”

The show was canceled after less than five months. Still, Mr. Wade said, “It probably added 30 years to my career.”

That career began while he was working as a laboratory technician for Dr. Jonas E. Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, and a songwriter friend invited him to New York to audition for a music publisher. He first recorded for Coed Records in 1958 and two years later moved to Manhattan, where he performed with the singer Freddy Cole, the brother of his idol Nat King Cole, and, rapidly ascending the show business ladder, opened for Tony Bennett and for the comedian Joe E. Lewis at the fashionable Copacabana nightclub.

“Two years ago, he was Patrick Henry Wade, a $65-a-week aide on virus research experiments in the laboratory of Dr. Jonas E. Salk at the University of Pittsburgh,” The New York Times wrote in 1961. “Today he is Adam Wade, one of the country’s rising young singers in nightclubs and on records.”

That same year, he recorded three songs that soared to the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “Take Good Care of Her” (which reached No. 7), “The Writing on the Wall” (No. 5) and “ As if I Didn’t Know” (No. 10).

Patrick Henry Wade was born on March 17, 1935, in Pittsburgh to Pauline Simpson and Henry Oliver Wade Jr. He was raised by his grandparents, Henry Wade, a janitor at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (now part of Carnegie Mellon University), and Helen Wade.

He attended Virginia State University on a basketball scholarship, but, although he had dreamed of playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, dropped out after three years and went to work at Dr. Salk’s laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. Undecided about whether to accept the recording contract that Coed offered, Mr. Wade consulted Dr. Salk.

“He told me he had this opportunity,” Dr. Salk told The Times at the time. “I told him he must search his own soul to find out what is in him that wants to come out.”

He changed his first name — because his agent said there were too many Pats in show business — and had his first hit with the song “Ruby” early in 1960. His smooth vocal style was often compared to that of Johnny Mathis, but Mr. Wade said he was primarily influenced by an earlier boyhood idol, Nat King Cole.

“So I guess that tells you how good my imitating skills were,” he said.

He appeared on TV on soap operas including “The Guiding Light” and “Search for Tomorrow” and sitcoms including “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford & Son.” He was also seen in “Shaft” (1971), “Come Back Charleston Blue” (1972) and other films, and onstage in a 2008 touring company of “The Color Purple.”

He and his wife ran Songbird, a company that produced African American historical revues, including the musical “Shades of Harlem,” which was staged Off Broadway at the Village Gate in 1983.

The couple last performed at an anniversary party this year.

In addition to Ms. Wade, whom he married in 1989, he is survived by their son, Jamel, a documentary filmmaker; three children, Sheldon Wade, Patrice Johnson Wade and Michael Wade, from his marriage to Kay Wade, which ended in 1973; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For all his success in show business, Mr. Wade said he was particularly proud that 40 years after dropping out of college he earned a bachelor’s degree from Lehman College and a master’s in theater history and criticism from Brooklyn College, both constituents of the City University of New York. He taught speech and theater at Long Island University and at Bloomfield College in New Jersey.

“I was the first one in my family to go to college,” he told Connecticut Public Radio. “I promised my grandmother back then that I would finish college someday. Many years later, I kept that promise.”

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