This year has forced many of us to dig deeply within ourselves to draw strength and cope with what seems to be an uncontrollable virus.
The widespread COVID-19 pandemic appears to have no end in sight. Thankfully, iconic pianist and vocalist Oleta Adams has delivered a single that offers hope during a time of despair and uncertainty.
The four-time Grammy-nominated artist’s new single, “Place of Peace,” is a soothing melody of hope, a passionately performed, heartfelt offering that is needed now more than ever.
“Place of Peace” epitomizes everything about Adams’ career, including the belief that music can heal, offer peace and make difficult times seem conquerable.
One of the most beautiful voices to grace a microphone, Adams, was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her song “Get Here”.
During my recent conversation with Adams, whom many consider musical royalty, she shares her inspiration for providing music to fans, the importance and impact of “Place of Peace” and discusses her purpose as an artist.
Zenger: How have you been, Mrs. Adams?
Adams: I’ve been very, very well. My husband and I have been locked up in this house, except for going out for groceries or the post office. We pretty much stay at home.
We’re used to being together 24/7 because he’s my drummer as well, so we travel all the time together and work together. So, it’s been exciting for us.
When I thought I was going to dip down into a deep depression, of course, I got busy with doing things for our church. The opportunity to stay creative helps us feel like we’re still doing what we normally do. So, it makes us feel good and keeps us inspired.
We like creativity, and it just feels good … a musician has to do something with their art. They can’t just sit around, or else it’s like dying a slow death. That’s been great.
We try not to look at too much news. We have always survived because of the Hallmark Channel (laughing). When we get down from watching something where we thought, ‘Ah, good grief, things are just horrible,’ we turn on the Hallmark Channel, which has the same plot; right now, it’s all about Christmas, but it gives you a really good feeling. Every time the main character finally has that kiss moment at the end, then John [Cushon] and I kiss each other.
We are inspired. He usually does all the cooking in the house, but to get that Christmas spirit, I started baking cookies and cakes and stuff. It just helps us. I already put the tree up, so that’s great.
Zenger: You have traveled the world and gained many experiences through that travel. Is it tougher to create being stuck in the house and not traveling abroad, or do you find creativity in seclusion?
Adams: Well, our creativity happens every night we’re on stage because I have musicians like that, that I’m working with. They are so amazing. The times that we play really is different — the space we give and sharing a moment, the answer to an adlib, the response to improvisation, trying to reach a place each night that touches not only our hearts but the hearts of the people who are listening.
So, that entire performance is an opportunity to be creative.
And at home, unfortunately, I haven’t written a lot of songs. I worked with my guitarist in trying to create something to at least get us going. But then, I have been keeping busy with … you know what happens in our world, on Instagram and Facebook and all that, people are saying, ‘Will you sing this line on my song?’ ‘Would you come on my show and do this?’
So, we have been kind of busy doing those things — and doing these instrumentals for our church, I’m not singing a lot for our church. I am going to do something for Christmas.
Other than that, I’m playing instrumentally, and my husband is playing drums, and we’re creating it home. So, for me, my voice has always been the main focus, and I accompany myself all these years because I’m the only keyboard player who has never left me.
Zenger: Percy laughs in response.
Adams: This is a real big moment for me creatively (laughing), for me to come up with something fresh and new instrumentally each week. I’m learning a lot about my keys, mixing, and that’s the way I’ve truly been going.
Zenger: Most people say, ‘As much as I love my wife/husband, I wouldn’t want to work with them and be around them 24/7.’ Is there a balance that you guys had to find to separate the marriage from the music?
Adams: Absolutely! We make time for each other. We set aside time. There are times where we don’t want to hear any music. There are times where we have special holidays, a lot of special holidays.
John is a hopeless romantic. So, he may wake up before I do and look at the Food Network; he’ll decide he wants a special meal, and then he’s going to make a special occasion out of it. He’ll say, ‘You know what, tonight we’re going to have, blah-blah-blah,’ and it becomes that special moment. We have always done that. It became even more important as we were isolated here.
Isolation … I mean, a lot of my friends that I hang with are out of town. They don’t live where we live here in Kansas City. I do have friends here in Kansas City, but it’s a different kind of friendship.
You know what I mean? It’s connected to our church or our neighbors, which we are next door, but we don’t necessarily hang out all the time. And we love them. We love our neighbors. They’re wonderful people, but we don’t always hang out.
We will have the occasional moment where we will get together. But my closest friends are somewhere else. They’re on both coasts. So, we had to really try to find ways to try to stay positive, really active, and up. And the other thing, of course, is our faith.
We read materials that inspire us. We’re very much into Richard Rohr, who is a monk and someone who has written a whole lot of books about the Christian life. And we get so much inspiration from his daily writings. It keeps us balanced. I think that’s the important word.
Zenger: When you released “Place of Peace,” it was around April when things were beginning to shut down because of COVID-19. Obviously, you didn’t plan it that way, but your timing to release a song about a “Place of Peace” was impeccable.
Adams: Yes, it was perfect timing for it.
When I wrote that, it was meant for times like these. If you understand that at the time when Christ went to the Garden of Gethsemane, it was a very turbulent time for him. He was a social activist. That’s what he was.
And the Hebrews were looking for somebody who was going to deliver them out of tough times, times of oppression, times where they were being run by the Romans, and his whole thing was … they wanted a king.
They wanted someone who would lead them. They had been asking for a king, and he felt like it was his job to show you a whole new way to live and to show you the father’s love through my example, and he knew that it was going to be a tough time.
So, he went to that garden to pray, and I don’t mean like, make a wish, I don’t mean like saying, ‘I’m going to pray for you all,’ the way that people say it today. He knew it was going to get ugly. And so, he meant, he had to put the knee pads on. And he was praying so hard he had sweat dropping down.
He told his closest friends to come pray with him, but they fell asleep. And he was like, ‘I don’t want to have to go through this alone.’ And that’s how I wrote that song. That’s what that’s about [in it].
When you’re going through stuff, and you don’t want to pour all this stuff on everybody else, but you’re like, ‘I need you to help me pray. Pray with me through this difficult time.’ There are people who have lost loved ones, and it’s been difficult.
My previous guitarist, who traveled with me for 10 years back in the early 2000s, died a few weeks ago. It’s real. Why are people out there saying it’s a hoax? I don’t think the people who have had family members affected by this, and I don’t think they appreciate that at all.
We really all should be praying. We should be praying for a lot of reasons. We gotta pray that these vaccines that are coming out work and that they won’t cause irrefutable damage to us while they are all trying to figure this out.
We will pray for the right leadership. We’re praying for the stamina of all of us that we can keep going. And that’s why we all have to have our own special garden for prayer, that place of Gethsemane where we can get down on our knees before God and sincerely pray for help and guidance.
And it’s like, I don’t want to have to go through this. And this generation has been very fortunate. My closest friends in town, church people who I hang out with, they are mostly in their 90s and two of them are 100 years old.
They saw some really, really tough times. They know how to get through this. We haven’t been through those really-really-really tough times, The Depression.
We’ve been through a couple of recessions, but we are spoiled.
So, for everything to stop like this … I’m telling you a situation where all my gigs were canceled. When they closed the borders, we were packing. We were leaving the next day to go to Holland for a 12-city tour, and then we had the rest of the year booked up, and everything was canceled. I mean everything.
So, we’re sitting here, out of work all this time. Praying, ‘Lord, I don’t know how we’re supposed to make it through, but I trust you. You’ve helped me all these years. We’ve come too far not to trust you now.’ So, we are definitely going to put this in your hands.
And there are other families; they’ve got nowhere to turn. People are being evicted. Some of them are safe through the end of this year, and then what? They are going to be out on the street. And they are worried about their children and everything.
Zenger: You have accomplished so much already during your illustrious career. Your voice is still amazing, and you still make amazing music, but that’s the selfish fan in me talking that never wants you to go away. What is your inspiration? What keeps you motivated to make music?
Adams: I struggle with that every day about how long to keep doing this. I really wanted to … my pride says, quit before you sound really, really bad.
Zenger: I don’t think that is possible.
Adams: Quit while you’re ahead (laughing). But I get letters like one I got last night, where people write to tell me, thank you for getting me through some tough times. And that’s really what I’m all about … I never really was about being a star and all that stuff, because that’s just too much hard work and it’s extremely expensive.
It’s just easier to keep your feet down on the ground because you don’t have that far to fall if you keep your feet on the ground (laughing). My whole feeling had always been about the people. Bringing comfort to them, bringing peace to them. Bringing joy, some laughter, opportunities to dance and feel good about themselves.
To help lift their spirits, to help lift their heads, and that’s what it is. To say, ‘Listen, whatever it is you’re going through, I feel you. I understand. I want you to not only be able to survive, but to thrive.’ And that’s what my music is about. It’s not about winning Grammy Awards and being seen and all that.
Because I tell you what, when I perform, after that last encore, I leave the stage, and for me, I leave all of that on the stage. I don’t take it with me and think I’ve got a great big head about it because tomorrow, you’re starting all over again, fresh. You start all over with a different audience. You don’t know if they’re going to accept it. You just hope that it gets to someone’s heart.
Zenger: When doing my research, seeing some of the comments of people under the “Place of Peace” album saying they were going through a dark moment, one person commented on how he couldn’t sleep that night, and he found the song. [That] a band years ago said your voice brought them to tears has to be one of the greatest compliments ever paid. That has to be inspiring, and that has to make you keep going.
Adams: It does help. It helps a lot because it’s a big responsibility.
I have to take the music that I do seriously. I do think about it a lot, sometimes overthink it. That’s when my husband steps in and says, ‘Don’t imagine that someone is thinking this or that because you’re singing this song when you haven’t even sung it yet. Get on the stage, do what you do.’
If I’m singing for a person’s special occasion, I struggle with trying to make sure that it will really be a special occasion for them. I don’t just throw something out. For me, I take it all very, very seriously.
Zenger: Mrs. Adams, this has been an amazing honor, and you are a joy. I thank you so much for your time. I wish that we can bottle your voice forever. Is there anything else you want to add?
Adams: We are all going to make it through the difficult times.
I’m learning how to enjoy the moment. Because something great is around the corner, it’s easy for everyone to say, “We’re all in this together,” but I’ve learned that by really thinking about the condition of other people around us, those who suffer and suffering with them, then when I write a song, it’s more authentic and it helps me to understand what everyone is going through.
So, I can write a better song. So, I thank God for the opportunity to share music during this time. And I thank God for all the people out there who are helping others to get through these moments. Just keep your heads up, keep your knee pads on, and stay in prayer, and know that the best of all is, God is with us.
(Edited by Daniel Kucin Jr. and Stan Chrapowicki)
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