Singer, songwriter and guitarist Joan Anita Barbara Armatrading, was born December 9, 1950 in Basseterre on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in the West Indies. She moved with her family to Birmingham in 1957 and taught herself to play piano and guitar. By the age of 14, she had began writing lyrics and music. She started her career playing music at local clubs as a teenager.
Joan’s first job was working at Rabone Chesterman (makers of engineering tools) in Hockley, Birmingham. She was sacked from this job because she insisted on bringing her guitar to work and playing during tea breaks. Her first guitar was a gift from her mother – a pawn shop exchange for two old prams.
In the early 1970s, Joan moved to London to perform in a repertory production of Hair. There she met the lyricist Pam Nestor, and they worked together on the album ‘Whatever’s for Us‘, released on the Cube label in 1972.
In 1975, Joan had left Cube and was free to sign with A&M, and issued the album ‘Back to the Night‘ which was promoted on tour with a six-piece jazz-pop group called The Movies.
A major publicity relaunch in 1976, and the involvement of producer Glyn Johns propelled her next album, ‘Joan Armatrading‘, into the top 20 and spawned the top 10 hit single “Love and Affection”. The album mixed acoustic work with jazz-influenced material, and this style was retained for the follow-up, ‘Show Some Emotion‘ (1977). This album was also produced by Glyn Johns, as was 1978’s ‘To the Limit‘. These albums included songs which continue to be staples of Joan’s live shows, including “Willow”, “Down to Zero”, “Tall in the Saddle”, and “Kissin’ and a Huggin”. Also at this time, Joan wrote and performed “The Flight of the Wild Geese”, which was used in the 1978 war film The Wild Geese. A live album entitled ‘Steppin’ Out‘, which showcased her well-honed stage act, was released in 1979.
Joan had achieved international fame as a headlining musician and also a solo performing black woman – a rarity at that time.
In 1980, Joan revised her playing style and released ‘Me Myself I‘, a more pop-oriented album produced by Richard Gottehrer, who had worked with the likes of Blondie. This became Joan’s highest ever charting album both in the UK and the US, while the title track became her second UK top 40 hit single. The same pop style was also evident on the 1981 album ‘Walk Under Ladders‘ and 1983’s ‘The Key‘. Both of which were also top 10 successes in the UK, with ‘The Key‘ also producing the hit single “Drop the Pilot”, Joan’s third and, to date, final UK top 40 hit. To capitalise on her success, A&M released a ‘the best’ of compilation album, ‘Track Record‘ (1983).
Joan’s next studio album was ‘Secret Secrets‘ (1985). Taking over production responsibilities herself, Joan recorded the albums ‘Sleight of Hand‘ (1986), ‘The Shouting Stage‘ (1988) and ‘Hearts and Flowers‘ (1990) for A&M Records, which all made the UK top 40.
In 1991, A&M released the compilation ‘The Very Best of Joan Armatrading‘ which returned her to the top 10. Following ‘Square The Circle‘ (1992), Joan left A&M – a label she had been with for almost 20 years and signed with RCA for her 1995 album ‘What’s Inside‘.
Joan’s backing musicians have included members of Little Feat, Fairport Convention, XTC and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. She works only with the finest, like Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones), Tony Levin (King Crimson), Manu Katche (Sting) and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty). Joan has also worked with an impressive list of producers and co-producers including Glyn Johns, Gus Dudgeon, Steve Lillywhite, David Tickle (Prince, Debbie Harry).
She was nominated twice as Best female vocalist for the Brit Awards and also nominated three times for the American Grammy Award. She received the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection in 1996, along with numerous platinum, gold and silver albums.
Joan released a CD of ‘Lullabies With A Difference‘ in December 1998 for a children’s charity called PACES. The charity helps children with cerebral palsy. She asked friends and musicians whom she admires, like Mark Knopfler, Jools Holland, Midge Ure, Tina Turner, The Cranberries, Melissa Etheridge, Brian May and Lewis Taylor to give a song with a lullabies theme.
Joan has presented 4 music series on both Radio 2 and 4. Other achievements include being nominated as one of the 100 most influential women in rock in the VH1 poll at the end of 1999. Joan received a platinum CD for her participation with other artists in the Lou Reed song Perfect Day by the BBC for sales of over 1 million.
Joan played for Nelson Mandela oh his 70th birthday at Wembley Stadium in London and at the end of 1999 was asked to write a tribute song to the former President of South Africa. On April the 6th 2000, Nelson Mandela made a private visit to London and Joan, backed by The Kingdom Choir, had the honour of singing that special song entitled ‘The Messenger’ to him. Mr. Mandela danced and smiled on stage through out the entire song.
In 2001, after five years of studying Joan received her BA (Hons) Open University Degree in History. She has also been awarded Honorary Degrees from Birmingham and Aston University and was made an Honorary Fellow of the John Moores University of Liverpool and of Northampton University.
Eight years later, in 2003 and no longer attached to a major label, Joan released the album ‘Lovers Speak‘.
On the 25th of June 2008, Joan received yet another Honorary Degree from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
Making history, Joan became:
The first female UK artist to debut at number 1 in the Bilboards Blue Chart
The first female UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in blues category
The first black UK artist to debut at #1 on Billboard blues chart
The first black UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in blues category
The first artist from St Kitts to have debuted at number 1 in the Billboards Blues chart
The first artist from St Kitts to have been nominated for a Grammy
*Into The Blues (2007)
*Live All The Way From America (2004)
*Lovers Speak (2003)
*A tribute song for Nelson Mandela (1999)
*Lullabies With A Difference (1998)
*What’s Inside (1995)
*Square the Circle (1992)
*Hearts and Flowers (1990)
*The Shouting Stage (1988)
*Sleight of Hand (1986)
*Secret Secrets (1985)
*The Key (1983)
*Walk Under Ladders (1982)
*Me, Myself, I (1980)
*Steppin’ Out (1979)
*How Cruel (1979)
*To the Limit (1978)
*Show Some Emotion (1977)
*Joan Armatrading (1976)
*Back to the Night (1974)
*Whatever’s for Us (1972)