All the while, no matter the accolade, Joan Armatrading has focused on the music.
“I write,” she says, “because I love it.
Three times Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, Joan Armatrading has come a long way since her birth in the West Indies and her upbringing in Birmingham. With 20 stunning albums to her, Joan’s subtle and sublime music has touched millions of people all over the world.
Known as a true craftsman, her distinctive vocals and consummate musicianship - she has arranged as well as played every instrument, with the exception of drums on last three albums - have led to unanimous, widespread and, perhaps most importantly, consistent critical acclaim. Effortlessly eclectic, her sound has ranged from true soul to sophisticated pop driven by her passionate guitar.
In musical terms Joan Armatrading has achieved far more than most performers even dream of - she has constantly played, with some of the finest musicians around. She has received countless gold, platinum and silver discs; she has been nominated for the Brit Award; she has been the recipient of a highly coveted Ivor Novello Award, and figured large in VH1’s Top 100 voted poll The Most Influential Woman In Rock…..
But more than that Joan has been honored by the Queen and is one of the few female artists to receive an MBE.
She stood down as President in 2009, after five years, of the highly prestigious Women of the Year Lunch. This sees women from all walks of life honored for their unique and often truly heroic contribution to modern day life, whether it be in art, science, politics, business or in the humanitarian arena. This was a role she took extremely seriously and one she is justly proud of her achievements in the organization, during this period.
In 2008, one month from her 58th birthday, Joan ran her first marathon. She ran the New York marathon of 26.24 miles and helped to raise 76,000 pounds for the Women of the Year Foundation.
In addition, she has performed for Nelson Mandela, been given the keys to Sydney, is Patron of various charities, has presented and continues to present BBC Radio 4 and Radio 2 series.
As well as the Honorary DLitt degree she was given by the John Moores University of Liverpool (2000), Joan has also received a Doctorate in Music from the University of Birmingham (2002), been made an Honorary Fellow of Northampton University (2003) received an Honorary degree from Aston University in 2006 and in June 2008 Joan received an Honorary Degree from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Moreover, after five years of committed studying, Joan achieved a goal she had held since childhood, she gained her BA Honors after five years of studying history from the Open University - a feat very few other working artists would attempt, let alone while on tour (she took her final exam the day after the last gig of her 2000 dates).
Joan Armatrading’s dedication to her studies while consistently producing wonderful uplifting music says much about the woman, her vision and her commitment to excellence.
Born in St Kitts in the West Indies on December 9, 1950 and moving to England when she was seven, she took her first musical steps on her mother’s piano. Although her father had a guitar, it was strictly out of bounds. So when Joan saw one for three pounds in a pawn shop window, she pestered her mother to barter two old prams they no longer used. She taught herself to play and began writing songs at the age of fourteen.
Her debut album, Whatever’s For Us, released on Cube Records in1972 and produced by the late great Gus Dudgeon, was critically acclaimed and saw Joan voted as best newcomer. In 1974, Joan signed to A&M world-wide and the career that has followed has witnessed a plethora of classic and memorable songs – “Love and Affection”, “Down To Zero”, “Drop the Pilot”, “Me Myself I” . . . .
Joan has worked with members of Little Feat, Fairport Convention, XTC, the Police and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Musicians such as Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones), Mark Brzezicki (Big Country) Tony Levin (King Crimson), Manu Katche (Sting), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty), Mark Knopfler and stalwart Greg Phillinganes have all joined her in the studio while her list of producers is impressive - Glyn Johns, Gus Dudgeon, Steve Lillywhite, David Tickle to name but a few.
The first non-jazz artist to play at London’s Ronnie Scott’s in the main room, Joan has many distinctions to her credit. A long time Ambassador and performer for the Prince’s Trust, she lends her support to various charities across the world. In December 1998 she released a CD, Lullabies With A Difference in aid of PACES, a charity for children with Cerebral Palsy.
South Africa has always been close to Joan’s heart. A huge admirer of Nelson Mandela, not only has she performed live for him at his 70th birthday at Wembley Stadium but, in 1999, she was invited to write a special tribute song. Entitled “The Messenger”, Joan performed it to the former President of South Africa when he made a private visit to the UK in 2000.
In 1996 Joan was awarded an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection while a platinum CD was received for her part in the BBC’s “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed.
March 2003 saw the release of the Lovers Speak album, featuring fourteen tracks in all written arranged and produced by Joan. In addition, with the exception of drums and horns, she played every instrument herself. An exceptional CD that combined strong upbeat melodies, riffs that stuck in your head and passionate, stirring soulful ballads, it was the result of a long-held desire to make a truly solo album.
In 2007 Armatrading released Into the Blues, the blues album that she had always wanted to write and record. The album debuted at Number One in The Billboard Blues Chart. Joan Armatrading was the first ever UK Female Artist to do this. The CD remained at Number One for twelve consecutive weeks. She was nominated for a Grammy in this category. Again Joan Armatrading was the first ever UK Female Artist to do this. In 2007-2008 Joan toured the world with the success of Into the Blues which culminated in the release of the deluxe edition of Into The Blues CD & DVD which showed Joan at her best - live on stage, performing material that spanned her illustrious career.
This “creative force” spent 2009 writing and recording her new album. You would think that this would be enough. It seems not!! Being such an accomplished guitarist, Joan decided to do a series of five interviews, for the BBC, with other guitarists to discuss their different styles and influences. The sainted quintet of guitarists were an eclectic throng. Mark Knopfler, originally of Dire Straits, is an obvious rocker, John Williams, the classical axeman best known for the tremulous “Cavatina” on the soundtrack to” The Deer Hunter”, Bonnie Raitt, the flame-haired country singer of “Love Has no Pride”, Bert Jansch, the rumpled veteran folkie of Pentangle, the late-1960s band and Russell Lissack, the twenty something, floppy-fringed Essex vegetarian from Bloc Party. Again this series has had hugely positive reviews.
And now in 2010 she releases her finest work to date. This Charming Life is a collection of eleven new compositions that will see Joan return to a more rock/pop format, both commercial yet also contemporary. From the anthemic opener and title track, This Charming Life, that has hit single written all over it, to the hard rocking “Heading Back to New York City” and the “hands in the air” “Best Dress On”, Joan is back with an album that will appeal to fans old and new.
Starlight (2012) is a Jazz-flavored album to compliment her two previous releases, the Blues-influenced Into The Blues (2007) and This Charming Life (2010) which was firmly rooted in the rock/pop genre. Starlight is a collection of ten new compositions that will see Joan mix her love of Jazz with her prowess as a singer, guitarist and songwriter, producing an album that is both commercial yet also contemporary. Starlight is an album that will appeal to fans old and new. A consummate performer, Joan Armatrading is indeed the whole package, an excellent songwriter, a powerful vocalist and as a guitarist, she is certainly one of the best players in the world.