Born to a Nigerian royal family, Ade left school to pursue his career, which began with Moses Olaiya's Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band. He left to form The Green Spots in 1967. He formed a record label in 1974, fed up with being exploited by a major label. Beginning with Juju Music, Ade began gaining a wide following as Mango Records, a subsidiary of Island Records, released his albums. He was soon billed as the African Bob Marley, and headlined concerts in the US.
By the end of the 1980s, Ade's star began to dim, and his albums sold less, though he continued to garner critical acclaim and widespread popularity in Africa. 1998's Odu, a collection of traditional Nigerian songs, was nominated for a Grammy Award. He has also become one of the most powerful people in Nigeria, running multiple companies in several industries. He has also created a non-profit organization called the King Sunny Ade Foundation and works with the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria.