Detroit Blues Singer Alberta Adams Dies at 97

Alberta Adams: “God put me here to sing the blues.” (Photo: robert barclay)
Alberta Adams: “God put me here to sing the blues.”
(Photo: robert barclay)

Sounds like a blues song: born in the heat of July, died on Christmas Day.

Detroit singer Alberta Adams was 97 when she died early Thursday at a Dearborn rehabilitation facility of congestive heart failure.

“God put me here to sing the blues,” she told the Free Press in 1999, amid a late-life career resurgence that saw her touring North America and earning acclaim from blues aficionados around the world.

“She was the last of the old-time blues singers, the great postwar singers who made their mark in the ’40s,” said R.J. Spangler, Adams’ manager, producer and band leader.

Born in July 1917 in Indianapolis to what she described as an alcoholic mother, Adams (then Roberta Louise Osborne) moved to Detroit as a child and was raised by an aunt.

Adams started her entertainment career in Detroit’s Black Bottom district, working as a tap dancer in her early 20s and getting her singing break when called to fill in for an ailing headliner at Club B and C.

Becoming a regular at clubs around town in the 1940s, she eventually was discovered by Chess Records and cut several singles with the Chicago label. She also briefly recorded with Berry Gordy’s Thelma Records and New Jersey’s Savoy label.

Embracing the nickname “Queen of the Blues” after an Apollo Theatre emcee spontaneously introduced her as such, Adams went on to share bills with artists including Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker, touring into the 1980s.

She was still performing around Detroit in the mid-1990s when she linked up with Spangler, a musician working with veteran Detroit bluesmen, including the late Johnnie Bassett and Joe Weaver.

The new setup — including collaborations with Bassett — sparked attention, leading to appearances on nationally released compilation discs and a pair of solo albums for Cannonball Records, her first recordings since the 1960s.

With Spangler on drums, Adams began touring again, greeted by glowing press and renewed interest in her earlier work.

Adams, by then in her 80s, was tickled by the career rejuvenation.

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Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press

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