A deeply soulful R&B vocalist with jazz undertones, Ada Dyer has not yet reached the commercial plateau equal to her artistic acumen. The Chicago-born performer's emotional and sultry style is just as assured as that of revered talents like Whitney Houston and Stephanie Mills, but she has not had the promotional backing of either. Dyer began her music career while still in high school with local bands like Axis, the Ken Chainey Experience, and Mother Fox. Playing nightclubs as well as colleges throughout the city, she met manager Paul Wilson, who helped her break into the business of singing commercial jingles. She also recorded some R&B demos with Wilson, one of which was entitled "Invitation." Over the next several years, she wet her feet in musical theater, in various stage productions such as The Wiz. Simultaneously, the demo of "Invitation" was gaining a buzz with industry insiders, attracting the attention of Stevie Wonder and eminent jazz drummer Norman Connors. Connors was so enthused that he chose the tune -- and Dyer -- for inclusion on a 1979 set for Buddha, which he would also title Invitation, and with this, Dyer thus made her recording debut. In addition to "Invitation," she was also featured on "Handle Me Gently." Connors invited the vocalist back for his next set, 1980's Take It to the Limit, on which the two scored aTop 30 R&B hit in the title track.
The success came as a surprise to Dyer, who at one point had quit the music industry to study computers. Singing had not been her career choice, and she was dubious about maintaining a financially secure position as a performer. But the results were much better than she expected; thus, in 1982, she relocated from Chicago to New York City. There, she continued her work in both jingles and recording. Notably, she became part of the lineup of electro-dance trio Warp 9, best remembered for their trendsetting club hits "Nunk," "Light Years Away," and "No Man Is an Island." Initially, the "group" was merely a studio concept of writers and producers Richard Scher and Lotti Golden, who masterminded "Nunk." Released as a 12" single on dance label Prism, the track became a quick success in clubs, and prompted its creators to form an actual group. Dyer, along with Chuck Wansley and Boe Brown, subsequently recorded "Light Years Away," "No Man Is an Island, and several other cuts for the 1983 album, It's a Beat Wave.
Warp 9 appeared in a number of major dance clubs across the U.S. in support of its singles; but Dyer' s desire to branch outside of the dance market resulted in her departure by 1984. It was around this time that she began a prolific career as a background vocalist, both on tours and sessions. Her first prominent road gig came via Chaka Khan, and she has since traveled internationally with Roberta Flack, Boz Scaggs, and Lenny Kravitz. Meanwhile, in the studio, she began to hone her chops further with Luther Vandross, Amy Grant, Cher, and Ronnie Spector. This activity led to interest from producer James Anthony Carmichael, noted for his work with Commodores. By 1987, the two commenced work on what would become Dyer' s debut solo album, Meant to Be. Carmichael had an ongoing relationship with Motown Records, which promptly signed Dyer.
Released in spring, 1988, Meant to Be quickly picked up steam with the single release of "I Bet Ya, I'll Let Ya," which reached number 33 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart. A second single, "I Don't Feel Like Crying," penned by L.A. Reid and Babyface, served as the follow-up, but corporate changes at Motown put a stop to promotion. Two years later, Randy Crawford would have a Top 20 hit with the song. Dyer had kept busy with touring while waiting for the album's release; and was unaware that it had actually come out until she was on tour with Chaka Khan in Japan, where she overheard one of her songs playing at a street market. Despite the disappointing turn of events, Dyer was given the chance to record a second album under Motown's new presidency. Unlike Meant to Be, on which she had been given no creative input, she selected all of the songs -- and co-wrote several -- for 1990's Ada Dyer. Boasting talented players such as Nathan East, Paulinho Da Costa, Chuckii Booker, and Robbie Buchanan, the album effectively showcased Dyer's abilities as an across-the-board singer, equally at home with powerful soul and pop ballads; jazzy R&B swayers, and funk jams. But unfortunately, the album suffered an even worse fate than the first. Following the single release of "That's What I Look for in a Lover," co-penned by Dyer, the album got lost in the shuffle of more commercial interests. It was never officially released in the U.S., though a few promotional copies were circulated, and in 1991, it saw a very brief release in Japan on BMG Victor. For a minute, it seemed things might change with the promotional single release of "It Happens Every Time," but they didn't -- and for years, the singer could not even find out if she was still signed to the label.
Following the Motown scenario, Dyer shifted her energies full-throttle to background singing. Her live gigs with Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack were consistent, and her studio work ranged from sessions with Judy Collins and Marc Cohn to popular big-band proprietors Cherry Poppin' Daddies and German organist Barbara Dennerlein. Her robust pipes also attracted the attention of songwriter and producer Jay Denes, who recorded Dyer on the house track "You Make Me Whole" in 1995. The track became an underground club hit in the U.K., where it was licensed to dance label Azuli and released in several incarnations. For his next project, under the moniker Thump N. Johnson, he recruited her again to sing on the cut "Valley of Love," which was release throughout Europe and appeared on several domestic compilation albums. In 1998, Denes began blending his dance prowess with the burgeoning "alternative soul" scene under the alias Naked Music NYC. The project resulted in the album What's on Your Mind, which features Dyer on several songs. Her work with Denes led to stints with Terry Burrus and drum'n'bass duo Ming + FS, which enlisted the singer for prominent vocal parts on their 2001 album The Human Condition. ~ Justin M. Kantor