The powerhouse songstress known around the world for her heartbreaking ballads hasn’t always been a household name. Let’s dig into the life that shaped the woman whose voice has been described as once in a generation.
The Humble Beginnings
Like many greats that came before her Adele is known iconically by just her first name, but her full legal name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins. Adele was born on May 5th, 1988, in the Tottenham district of northern London. She was raised by her English mother Penny Adkins after her Welsh father Marc Evans left the family to move back to Wales before Adele’s third birthday.
Penny and Marc met in The King’s Head Pub in North London when Penny was still a teenager. When Penny became pregnant with Adele at just eighteen years old, she dropped out of Barnett College where she was studying art. After Adele was born Penny relied on government assistance and a variety of jobs including work as a furniture maker and an adult-learning activities organizer to provide for her daughter. Adele has described her mother Penny as a bit of a “hippie mum” and one of her best friends.
Despite the breakup, Adele’s father Marc Evans remained involved in her childhood for some time. However, in 1999, Marc experienced two tragic losses. The death of his father to bowel cancer coupled with the sudden death of his best friend led him to seek solace in alcohol. This lead to a major bout with addiction which effectively ended his relationship with Adele. To this day the two are estranged.
The Development of Her Interest In Music
Adele has stated that as a toddler and young child she was obsessed with people’s voices. She began singing at the age of four, and like many young children would perform and put on shows for her family. Her mother Penny even made her a costume eyepatch so she could impersonate British urban soul singer Gabrielle.
As a young girl growing up in the 1990s in London Adele was deeply enthralled with British pop sensations The Spice Girls. She credits them for helping to shape her love for music and performing. After attending a Spice Girls reunion tour in 2019 Adele gushed that she “ fell back in love with her 10-year-old self. Stating that it was “no secret how much I love them” and that “they inspired me to run for my life and never look back.”
In 1999 after briefly moving to Brighton on the south coast of England for two years Adele and Penny moved back to London, this time making their home in south London, first in Brixton and then eventually settling in West Norwood. It’s back in London where Adele begins to explore performing more seriously.
South London and the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology
When Adele and her mother moved back to London they moved to the South London neighborhood of West Norwood where Adele took to spending hours in Brockwell park oftentimes bringing her guitar to pluck away at new songs and serenade friends.
At the young age of 13, Adele attended a P!nk concert at nearby school Brixton Academy. She’s spoken of the Missundaztood concert as a defining moment in her childhood, later recalling “I had never heard, being in the room, someone sings like that life. I remember sort of feeling like I was in a wind tunnel, her voice just hitting me. It was incredible.”
A few years after returning to London Adele began attending the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology in Croydon. The BRIT School is one of London’s most well-renowned performing arts secondary schools and boasts talented and famous alumni such as Amy Winehouse, The Feeling, and Tom Holland.
During her teenage years, she also begins exploring r&b and soul artists like Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, and Mary J. Blige. This unique blend of pop, jazz, soul, and r&b can be felt in the style that starts to emerge as Adele begins to write her own music.
It’s during her time at BRIT that Adele discovers the work of Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald while flipping through CDs in the jazz section of her local music store. and was struck by their appearance on the album covers.
The two artists would go on to be extremely influential in the development of Adele’s style, both musically and visually. In an interview with the L.A. Times Adele stated “Etta James is the only artist I’ve ever properly believed when I listen to her, I feel her pain.” Fans of Adele will certainly recognize the extreme vulnerability and raw expressions of pain in her work.
The very first song Adele ever wrote on guitar is an ode to South London and the city that shaped her. In “Home Town Glory” Adele croons about the wonders and beauty of her multiethnic lively city. She sings:
“I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque
I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts, and shades
I like it in the city when two worlds collide
You get the people and the government
Everybody taking different sides
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Shows that we ain’t gonna take it
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Round my hometown”
After having initially agreed to attend university in Liverpool to satisfy her Mother’s request that she spend some time away from home, Adele changed her mind and decided to stay in London. She wrote “Hometown Glory” as a sort of protest song to convince her mother to allow her to stay. “Hometown Glory” would go on to be Adele’s.
In an interview with Blues & Soul, Adele explains “I’d wanted to go to Liverpool, later I changed my mind and wanted to go to university in London. But, because I love being at home and I’m really dependent on my mum, she still wanted me to go to Liverpool. So that I’d have to learn how to do things on my own, rather than still be coming home for dinner, having her do my washing and stuff like that.
So in that way it was a kind of protest song about cherishing the memories – whether good or bad – of your hometown. Whereas – having only been to Liverpool about twice – there’s nothing there that comforts me, here in London – even if I’m having a really shit day – there’s still something I love about the place. So really yeah, in general, it is an ode to the place where I’ve always lived.”
Chasing Pavements and Fame
While still attending The BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology Adele began recording music. As part of a school project, she recorded a three-song demo tape. A close friend helped Adele by posting the demo songs to the then-popular social media site MySpace. Once posted on MySpace they began to garner attention.
The extreme success of her demos on MySpace caught the eye of record executives at XL Recordings, a British independent record label. In the early 2000s XL Recordings represented heavyweight bands like Radiohead and The White stripes and in the 2010s would go on to sign big names like Vampire Weekend and Tyler, the Creator, but at the time Adele had never heard of them.
She feared it might not be a legitimate offer, so she did what any eighteen-year-old would do, she enlisted a friend to go with her to the meeting to be sure it was for real.
It was for real though, and Nick Huggett at XL Records went on to refer her to Jonathan Dickins at September Management. After signing on to be represented by September Management Adele officially signed on to work with XL Records and Nick Huggett in September 2006. Before producing her first album Adele recorded background vocals for several songs including “My Yvonne” for Jack Peñate’s debut album. During the recording of “My Yvonne” Adele met producer Jim Abbiss. Jim and would go on to produce almost the entirety of Adele’s debut album 19.
19 released on January 28th, 2008 was titled after Adele’s age at the time of the release of the album.
Tracks Listed on 19
2.Best For Last
5.Crazy For You
6.Melt My Heart To Stone
8.Right As Rain
9.Make You Feel My Love
“Chasing Pavements” was released two weeks before 19 and reached number two on the UK charts. It stayed there for weeks. The song is said to be inspired by a listless walk Adele took after a particularly bad fight she had with a boyfriend at the time.
In 2008 after the release of 19, Adele began her first headline concert tour entitled “An Evening with Adele.” Despite canceling several North American tour dates to spend time with a boyfriend Adele gained a mass US following that year after appearing on Saturday Night Live. Adele won two Grammy awards for 19 and it kicked off her career as a superstar.
21 Adele’s sophomore studio album was released on January 24, 2011, in the UK and February 22, 2011, in the US. The album is often described as a breakup album and was admittedly inspired by a split with the very partner she canceled tour dates to be with just a few years prior.
The album’s contemporary country and southern blues influence is said to have its origins in music Adele was exposed to by her U.S. tour bus driver during stretches of the American leg of her “An Evening with Adele” tour. 21 solidified Adele’s number/age tradition which she carried over from her previous album. She’s said that she didn’t intend to continue the motif, but that ultimately the songs tracked her progression like a photo album and thus 21 became the most appropriate title she could think of.
Tracks Listed on 21
- Rolling In The Deep
- Rumour Has It
- Turning Tables
- Don’t You Remember
- Set Fire To The Rain
- He Won’t Go
- Take It All
- I’ll Be Waiting
- One And Only
- Someone Like You
The album topped charts across 30 countries and was named the world’s best selling album of both 2011 and 2012. Adele also became the very first artist to sell over three million albums in the UK in a single calendar year.
In October 2011 while on tour promoting 21 Adele experienced severe vocal cord hemorrhage. She was forced to cancel two tours due to the condition and underwent laser microsurgery. Doctors recommended an extended period of rest to avoid permanent damage to her voice.
After the procedure and lengthy period of rest, Adele made her live return to the stage at the 2012 Grammy awards. Her performance was met with spectacular applause and she won all six categories she was nominated in.
Also in 2012, Adele gave birth to her first son with partner Simon Konecki. Angelo James Adkins was born on October 19th. Adele wasn’t about to let motherhood slow her down though, she wrote and recorded the theme song for the twenty-third James Bond film Skyfall while pregnant with Angelo and released it just five days before his birth.
25 and Beyond
After taking some time off to focus on living her life and enjoying new motherhood on May 4th, 2015 Adele cryptically tweeted “Bye bye 25… See you again later in the year.” With that, the frenzy around her latest album began and it did not disappoint. On November 20th, 2015 Adele released her third studio album 25.
Tracks Listed on
- Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
- I Miss You
- When We Were Young
- Water Under The Bridge
- River Lea
- Love In The Dark
- Million Years Ago
- All I Ask
- Sweetest Devotion
In a statement about 25 Adele said “my last record was a break-up record, and if I had to label this one, I would call it a make-up record. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did. 25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realizing. And I’m sorry it took so long but, you know, life happened.” The album debuted at number one in 32 countries, was the world’s best-selling album of the year for 2015, and again earned the songstress six Grammy awards.
During her acceptance speech for album of the year at the 59th Grammy awards, Adele confirmed her marriage to Simon Konecki. However, in 2019 Adele’s representative released a statement that after seven years together her Konecki would be filing for divorce. Shortly after in October 2019 Adele showed off her new fit figure at Drake’s birthday party.
In early 2020 Adele announced her intention to release her fourth studio album in September of that year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global lockdowns, the album has been postponed. Adele’s manager Jonathan Dickins told Music Week “It isn’t coming in September, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. We’re all in the same boat, you’re doing stuff and then all of a sudden, the world stops. It’ll come when it’s ready. I can’t put a date on that yet. We have music, but we’re still working.”