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.
“She had a ball. She was never grouchy, never short with anybody at a gig, always happy to meet people and say thank you,” Spangler said. “We would sometimes drive long periods of day, eight to 10 hours in a van, and she’d get up on that stage and kick ass. She was a professional ’til the end.”
Lively on stage, her fingers laden with glittering rings, Adams had a knack for showmanship. “I can’t stand still and sing,” she told the Free Press. “I got to move.”
“I would tell the guys in rock bands: If you learn to communicate with an audience like this lady does, you might have something someday,” said Detroit music publicist Matt Lee, who represented Adams. “In terms of audience connection, she was the best I ever saw.”
In 2008, she recorded her final full album, “Detroit Is My Home,” her second for Eastlawn Records, composing several songs and collaborating with a host of local musicians.
“She had a unique Alberta Adams stamp — her singing, her phrasing, was like no other singer,” Spangler said. “She could take a standard shuffle form or slow blues and do it her own way, without too many overt influences. She was her own woman.”
Adams’ activity was curtailed after a fall at her west-side Detroit home, and she spent recent years in and out of hospitals.
She was hospitalized earlier this month and transferred to the Dearborn rehab facility last week.
Adams is survived by her daughter, Barbara Jean Tinsley, and nine grandchildren. Her son, the Detroit doo-wop singer James Drayton, died in 2001.