She is a singer-songwriter and pianist born Oleta Angela Adams in Seattle, Washington whose father was a preacher. She grew up listening to gospel music and also starting to sing in church.
She moved to Los Angeles, California in the 1970s and recorded a demo tape, but because she didn’t perform as a disco artist it was more difficult for her to gain the attention from the people in the music industry at that time. Her singing coach advised her to go to Missouri so she went to Kansas City and performed locally before financing her first two album herself. They had minimal success but in 1984 she was asked to sing the National Anthem for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
The following year, in 1985, she was heard in Kansas City by the band Tears for Fears while they were touring. Not much later she had decided to look for other work and gave up doing gigs but in 1987 Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith of Tears for Fears contacted her and asked her to play piano and sing on their next album entitled The Seeds of Love. The album was released in 1989 and she sang a duet with Roland Olazabal on the track “Woman in Chains”, with Phil Collins drumming. This would be her first hit record and she embarked on a world tour with the band in 1990. For each show she would also act as the supporting artist at the beginning.
Fontana Records offered her a recording contract so she went back to work as a solo artist in 1990 and recorded her album Circle of One with Roland Orzabal being the co-producer. Achieving success in 1991 the album reached No. 1 on the UK Album Charts and the track “Get Here”, which was a cover version of a song by Brenda Russell, reached No, 4 in the UK and No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and received a Grammy nomination. Also in 1991 she changed to the Fairwood Music independent music publisher and contributed “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” to the Elton John and Bernie Taupin tribute album. This reached the UK Top 40 and got her another Grammy Award nomination.
In 1993 she released Evolution which reached the UK Album Chart Top 10 and included her own song “Window of Hope”. In 1994 she married the drummer John Cushon, who she had known since 1980 and the following year saw her Moving On appear. The same year she duetted on “Me and My Big Ideas” with Roland Orzabal on Raoul and the Kings of Spain.
1997 saw her concentrating on the gospel music Come Walk with Me which produced the track “Holy Is the Lamb” which got her yet another Grammy Award nomination. The following year she performed as a guest singer as part of Phil Collins’ Big Band Jazz Tour.
When the new millennium came around she released All the Love in 2001 which was later re-released in Germany as I Can’t Live a Day without You in 2004. Also in 2004 she appeared as a surprise guest with Tears for Fears in their concert at Kansas City.
The next album to hit the shelves was her 2006 Christmas Time with Oleta and three years later in 2009 she released Let’s Stay Here. Eight years later in 2017 her Third Set was issued.
In 2019 she was inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame in Kansas City, Missouri at the American Jazz Museum with her medallion in the historic area’s sidewalk.
In 2020 she recorded the song “Place of Peace” which she had written and recorded many years previously but didn’t release. She continues to tour and perform concerts after having to temporarily stop due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Recordings she has appeared on as a performer and/or composer, out-with her own and Tears for Fears, include Thirty by Anthony Callea, The Essential Fureys by The Fureys, Still Euge by Euge Groove, Girl from Clare by Dermot O’Brien, Windows of Hope by Positive Voices, A Woman’s View… Through Child Eyes by Jackie Richardson, Pearls by David Sanborn, Big Band Romance by Jeff Steinberg, Back to Mine by Danny Tenaglia, One More for the Road by Toots Thielemans, Movin’ by Al Turner along with numerous albums by various artists and countless collections and compilations.