Last month, we were saddened to learn of the passing of Adam Wade. While his name may not be top-of-mind, his career is certainly one to be celebrated. Wade was a singer, musician, actor, and the first Black American to host a nationally-televised game show. The Library of Congress National Audio-Video Conservation Center hosts a breadth of materials that showcase his legacy.
Adam Wade made an early career appearance as a contestant on the television game show, “To Tell the Truth” on February 25, 1960. The panelists on Adam Wade’s episode were Tom Poston, Polly Bergen, Don Ameche, and June Lockhart. “To Tell the Truth,” which was at that time moderated by Bud Collyer, is part of the Library’s Mark Goodson Productions Collection. For those interested in a deeper dive into the Mark Goodson Productions Collection, check out the pdf of the Library’s finding aid.
By the time of his appearance on “To Tell the Truth,” Adam Wade was already establishing his career as a singer. His song “Tell Her for Me” was named “Variety” magazine’s “Best Bet” on November 4, 1959, and the Library’s catalog record for his episode of “To Tell the Truth” notes that “Wade was a lab technician turned singer.”
Before his singing career took off, Wade worked for two years for Dr. Jonas Salk, and according to a 2007 interview in the Library’s HistoryMakers collection, Wade says Salk encouraged him to pursue his singing career, and that the two remained in touch until Salk’s death in 1995.
The Library’s holdings also document Wade’s career as a singer with his albums “One is a Lonely Number” (1962), “Adam Wade’s Greatest Hits” (1962), and “A Very Good Year for Girls” (1963), among its holdings. As a singer, Wade was inspired by Nat King Cole, and in a 2014 Connecticut Public Radio interview, he says Nat King Cole “was my idol since high school,” and that he got to work with Nat King Cole’s brother, Freddy Cole.
Wade’s career as a singer would also be incorporated into his work on the television game show, “Musical Chairs.” While “Musical Chairs” aired only from June to October 1975, the show and Wade made history. “Variety” Magazine (June 25, 1975) referred to Adam Wade as “network TV’s first black game show host,” and described the premise of the show as four contestants “identifying missing lyrics or other musical aspects of a wide variety of songs that are performed by the guests.” This format seemed reliant upon Wade’s unique combination of abilities as both a host and a singer.
Wade’s work as a game show host and singer can also be seen in WNET’s “Black Journal.” According to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, “Black Journal,” debuted in 1968, and was “the first nationally televised public affairs program produced for, about, and (eventually) by African-Americans.” Wade’s appearances included hosting episodes of the game show segment, “Can You Dig It?” While episodes featuring Wade are not presently available online, other episodes of “Black Journal” are available through the American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s Black Journal collection. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and public broadcasting’s GBH, a project to preserve “the most significant public television and radio programs.
As an actor, Wade’s roles were numerous. He appeared on many television shows, including a 1979 episode of “The Jeffersons,” (in the Library’s collection), and as a self-made millionaire on “Good Times.” Wade can be seen in the movie “Shaft” (1971), and his voice can be heard singing his 1960 hit cover of “Ruby” in “A Bronx Tale” (1993).
Wade also performed in theater, including the national tour of “The Color Purple.” In his April 2007 interview for HistoryMakers, Wade notes that one of his favorite roles was playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father in a production of “Hamlet” staged by The Classical Theatre of Harlem.
Wade’s HistoryMakers interview provides even more information about his career. It is one of the many interviews included in the HistoryMakers archive of African American oral histories at the Library of Congress. In Wade’s interview, he describes himself as “an actor, a singer, a writer, a director” and an adjunct professor, because “after 40 years I went back to college and got two degrees.” This statement demonstrates how so many disciplines comprised the career of Adam Wade.
Adam Wade was clearly a man of many talents, with a career of many layers. The moving image and recorded sound collections at the Library highlight both the breadth of fields covered in Adam Wade’s career, and the types of unique material which can be viewed and listened to at the Library of Congress.
Don’t hesitate to contact Ask a Librarian about the availability of the Adam-Wade-related materials or any other items in our collections. Before you plan to come in and view any collection items, please get in touch with our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center.