Network TV’s first Black game show host, Adam Wade, has died

Wade passed away last Thursday at his home in Montclair, New Jersey, reportedly from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 87.

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Adam Wade, the first Black host of a network television game show, who also had three Billboard Top 10 hits, died last week at age 87. 

In a statement to The New York Times, his wife of 33 years, Jeree Wade, shared that he died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Wade passed away on July 7 at his home in Montclair, New Jersey.

Adam Wade, the first Black host of a network television game show, who also had three Billboard Top 10 hits, died last Thursday at age 87. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com)

Wade became the first Black host on a TV game show in 1975, the year CBS tapped him to MC its daily daytime game show, “Musical Chairs.” It saw four contestants compete to guess the next line of a song performed by Wade or one of the guest vocalists, per TV Tropes. Some of its guest performers included The Spinners and singer Irene Cara.

Wade received piles of racist hate mail as a result. Speaking to Connecticut Public Radio in 2014, he recalled a letter from a man “saying he didn’t want his wife sitting at home watching the Black guy hand out the money and the smarts.”

“I’m sure [the show’s producers] hid some of the letters from me so I wouldn’t get upset,” Wade said.

A CBS affiliate in Alabama even refused to carry “Musical Chairs,” which was canceled after less than five months on the air. 

Before his foray into television, Wade had a successful career in music as a singer/songwriter. In 1961, he scored three consecutive Billboard Top 10 hits for his songs “Take Good Care of Her,” which reached No. 7; “The Writing on the Wall,” his No. 5 hit, and “As If I Didn’t Know,” a jam that made it to No. 10. He appeared in several films, plays and TV productions, including “Shaft,” “The Guiding Light,” “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford & Son.” Wade was also among the performers in a 2008 touring company of “The Color Purple.”

Born March 17, 1935 in Pittsburgh and raised by his grandparents, Wade attended Virginia State University on a basketball scholarship. He ultimately quit the HBCU after three years and began working for Dr. Jonas E. Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, at the University of Pittsburgh. It was during this time that a friend invited Wade to New York to audition for a music publisher. When he was offered a recording contract with Coed Records, Wade was reportedly uncertain about accepting the deal, turning to Dr. Salk for advice. 

“He told me he had this opportunity,” Salk told The Times in 1961. “I told him he must search his own soul to find out what is in him that wants to come out.”

Wade made his first record with the label in 1958 and moved to Manhattan two years later, quickly making a name for himself in the nightclub scene.

Four decades after leaving VSU, he received his B.A. degree from Lehman College, then his master’s degree from Brooklyn College, achievements of which he was particularly proud. 

Wade’s wife, Jeree, is a singer, actress and producer, and together they ran Songbird, “a company that produced African American historical revues, including the musical ‘Shades of Harlem,’ which was staged Off Broadway at the Village Gate in 1983,” per The New York Times. 

He is survived by his wife and their son; three children he shared with his first wife, Kay Wade; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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