Adam Wade, Singer, Actor and Pioneering Game Show Host, Dies at 87

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Adam Wade, the suave singer and actor who registered three Top 10 hits on the Billboard 100 in 1961 and appeared in films including Shaft, Crazy Joe and Claudine before making history as a game show host, has died. He was 87.

Wade died Thursday at his home in Montclair, New Jersey, after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, his wife, singer Jeree Wade, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Pittsburgh crooner drew comparisons to Johnny Mathis when he scored hits in 1961 with the romantic ballads “Take Good Care of Her,” which reached No. 7 (the tune was later recorded by Elvis Presley), “The Writing on the Wall” (No. 5) and “As If I Didn’t Know” (No. 10).

In a 2014 interview, Wade said he “was trying to imitate Nat King Cole, my boyhood idol, not Johnny Mathis. So I guess that tells you how good my imitating skills were.”

In June 1975, Wade became the first Black person to host a network game show with Musical Chairs, created by Don Kirshner. Recorded at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, it featured contestants trying to come up with correct lyrics and song titles with the help of acts including The Spinners, Sister Sledge and Irene Cara.

Wade said a CBS affiliate in Alabama refused to air Musical Chairs because he was the host and that producers received lots of hate mail before the show went off the air, despite its popularity, in October.

“I’m sure [they] hid some of the letters from me,” Wade said, “so I wouldn’t get upset. One I did see was from a guy who used all kinds of expletives, saying he didn’t want his wife sitting at home watching the black guy hand out the money and the smarts.”

Adam Wade in 1961
Courtesy Everett Collection

Born on March 17, 1935, Patrick Henry Wade graduated from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh in 1952. He studied science at Virginia State University and worked as a lab technician under Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the vaccine for polio in the ’50s.

Wade signed with Coed Records in late 1959 and quickly made the charts with “Ruby,” a cover of the theme song from the 1952 Jennifer Jones film Ruby Gentry, and “Tell Her for Me.”

When Wade arrived in New York City, among the first musicians he worked with was Freddy Cole, Nat’s brother, and before he knew it, he was opening for Tony Bennett at the Copacabana and appearing on the game show To Tell the Truth.

After his first two albums, 1960’s And Then Came Adam and 1961’s Adam and Evening, Wade signed with Epic Records to replace Mathis on its roster but never found the success he enjoyed at Coed.

Wade made his onscreen acting debut on a 1966 episode of Tarzan and appeared on The F.B.I. and Adam-12 before showing up on the big screen in Shaft (1971), Come Back Charleston Blue (1972), Across 110th Street (1972), Gordon’s War (1973), Crazy Joe (1974), Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Claudine (1974), starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones.

Wade’s TV résumé also included Search for Tomorrow, Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons, What’s Happening!!, Police Woman, Kojak, Good Times, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.

He returned to recording after Musical Chairs and understudied for Ben Vereen on Broadway in I’m Not Rappaport in 2002. He also did lots of regional theater.

Wade met Jeree on the set of Musical Chairs, and they married in 1989. They frequently performed together, including in the play On Kentucky Avenue, which he wrote and directed.

Survivors also include his children, Ramel, Patrice, Jamel and Latoya, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.