April 11, 1987 • Dover, England
Teen singing sensation Joss Stone came out of nowhere to take the music industry by storm. The British blues singer grew up listening to American music as well as several other genres. In fact, she landed her first record contract by singing a cover version of disco queen Donna Summer's 1970s hit "On the Radio." Two albums and several Top 20 singles later, Stone is being hailed by some as the white Aretha Franklin (1942–), a woman who is considered one of the best rhythm and blues singers of all time.
A poor student, a talented singer
Joscelyn Eve Stoker was born on April 11, 1987, in Dover, England. She moved with her three siblings and parents to Ashill, a small town where Stone spent most of her childhood; this is where she began to dislike school. Stone is dyslexic, which means she sometimes sees and reads things backwards or mixed up. But this isn't the only reason she grew to dread school every morning. "It was partly that, but because I don't come across like I'm really stupid—I can hold a conversation.... I guess teachers thought I wasn't trying...." Stone explained to Teddy Jamieson of The Herald. "The way they taught didn't work, so that resulted in huge arguments with people and I don't like to be told what to do."
So Stone spent a fair amount of her time in detention, figuring if that was the worst thing that could happen to her, she'd survive. And still she found time to shape her musical tastes. Stone's father listened to blues and reggae for the most part. Her mother's tastes lay in soul music. Soul is a sound that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is an offshoot of the sounds of rock and roll and gospel. Soul is divided into several categories, including Motown (sung by African Americans on the Motown record label) and blue-eyed soul (performed by white musicians). Musicians such as James Brown (1928–) added their own style to soul and took it in another direction. Brown is credited with helping to make the funk sound popular in the 1960s.
"I just think my voice is suited to a time that doesn't exist anymore."
Stone grew up listening to the great soul musicians from the past, and by the time she was seven years old, Aretha Franklin was her hero. Franklin, whose roots were in gospel, earned herself the title "Queen of Soul" with timeless hits such as "Respect" and "Chain of Fools." The first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Franklin began recording gospel at the age of fourteen. She was still generating hits in the pop music genre in the 1970s and 1980s. Franklin is considered one of the greatest crossover (spanning more than one genre) music recording stars in history. Aretha Franklin's Greatest Hits was the first album Stone owned, and she spent much of her free time listening and singing along. Stone found her voice well-suited to the throaty sounds of the blues. One day she would amaze listeners with a powerful sound that didn't seem like it could come from a girl who was not yet out of her teens.
At age twelve, Stone chose to become a singer by default. In her interview with The Herald, she explained that she thought she might like to become a veterinarian or midwife (a nurse who is licensed to deliver babies). "But then I realized that meant seven years at school. I couldn't do that so I decided to be a singer." Most children dream of being a famous musician at some point. For Stone, that dream came true without so much as one day of struggle.
High school dropout makes it big
Stone was thirteen when she submitted an audition tape to the British talent show Star for a Night. Her cover of the Aretha Franklin hit "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" won her a spot on the show. Onstage and live on television, Stone's rendition of Donna Summer's "On the Radio" left the audience speechless. This blonde, giggly teenager had the voice of a grown woman. She immediately signed on with American record company executive Steve Greenberg of S-Curve Records. Greenberg is credited with bringing the pop group Hanson to the masses.
Greenberg recognized Stone's potential and hired Miami soul legend Betty Wright to mentor Stone. Wright began singing when her own mother suffered a back injury and could no longer support her fatherless family. In a 2003 interview with Scott Simon of National Public Radio (NPR), Wright explained the difference between her early years as a star and Stone's. "I think in Joss's case, there's a lot more fun involved, and I'm really glad for that. Mine eventually became that.... I think it's very stressful, in my case because I had not just, you know, singing for soup, but it was like I have a big family, so it was like no matter how much money you bring home, sometimes it's not enough."
Stone considers Wright to be her second "mum," (mom) and the two joke about how Wright threatens Stone with guitar sticks if she doesn't stay on track. Stone's mother was actually her manager in the beginning. When rumors started circulating that Stone fired her mother, the singer scoffed. As she explained to Teddy Jamieson of The Herald, "She was my mum and she managed me for a little second, but at the end of the day at some point you can't take your mum to work with you. That's pretty much all it is."
Stone dropped out of school at sixteen, with her parents' approval. In an interview with SMH.com, the singer remembered, "I was never an academic sort of kid. My parents knew I hated school and I really just looked forward to leaving." When it became obvious Stone's career was going to take her in the right direction, her parents gave her their blessing. With a voice that Wright calls "a gift from heaven," it seemed silly to make the singer continue along a path that wasn't taking her where she wanted to go.
Around this time, the singer decided to change her name, though she did so reluctantly. Her mom thought she needed something catchier than Stoker. In the end, Stone changed it to protect her family from the media attention, since her grandmother had the same last name.
The Soul Sessions
Wright gathered a team of musicians to create what she calls a Miami soul sound. It's a sound of mixed cultures—reggae, calypso, salsa, and blues. These musicians backed up sixteen-year-old Stone on her debut album, The Soul Sessions. Released on September 16, 2003, the album is a treasure trove of classic soul tracks, remade the Stone way. It reached the Top 5 in the U.K. charts, the Top 100 in the U.S. Billboard charts.
A couple singles from the album fared especially well. "Fell in Love with a Boy" was a cover of alternative rock group The White Stripes's song "Fell in Love with a Girl." Stone's version reached the Top 20 in the U.K.'s singles chart. "Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin' On Me?)" enjoyed the same success.
Stone expressed her uncertainty at working with a crew of powerhouse musicians in an interview with MTV News. "I felt a bit weird about the whole thing because 'Should I be here?' I have no experience, I don't know what I'm doing. But it was cool because they made me feel really comfortable." By the summer of 2004 The Soul Sessions was certified gold in the United States and had sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Mind, Body & Soul
Stone performed on television shows such as Good Morning, America and The Conan O'Brien Show following the release of her first album. She could boast that among her fans were actor Tom Cruise and rock and roll legend Mick Jagger. She appeared in Rolling Stone and People magazines. She was hot. But she wasn't about to stop there.
In an article on her U.K. Web site, Stone admits that The Soul Sessions "started out as a side project and turned into this huge thing. I didn't mean it to, but people just kept buying it." A little less than a year later, Stone released her sophomore album, Mind, Body & Soul. "For me, personally, Mind, Body & Soul is my real debut," Stone explains on her Web site. Released in the United States on September 28, 2004, the album contained mostly original songs. Stone cowrote eleven of the fourteen tunes.
"I think my singing is so much better on this album. Your voice can't ever be the same, once you've started singing live as much as I have over the past year," says the singer on her Web site. Many of the songs were recorded in chunks because Stone was touring and playing gigs during the production of the album. Despite that, the sound is not overproduced. Listeners would never know it was pieced together in the studio. The album reached number eleven on Billboard's Top 200 chart in 2004. In October of that year, the album reached number one in the United Kingdom. Mind, Body & Soul also went certified gold in the United States.
2005: A year of making lists
Every year, the United Kingdom hosts the Brit Awards. These awards are given to musicians in a number of categories. Stone was nominated in three categories in 2005 and won two of them. She was voted Best Female British Solo Artist and Best British Urban Act. Stone was just seventeen years old.
In 2005 Stone also was added to the list of Britain's young music millionaires. To qualify for the list, musicians must be thirty years old or younger. Stone, at seventeen, entered at number fourteen with earnings over $5 million. This amount was expected to rise with the continued sale of Mind, Body & Soul.
Perhaps the highest praise Stone could have received in 2005 was to be nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist. Though she did not win, the blues singer did get to sing a live duet with famous rocker Melissa Etheridge (1961–) at the Grammy show in February 2005. The two dedicated their medley to the late great rocker Janis Joplin (1943–1970), and it instantly became the number-one download on the iTunes Web site. All proceeds went toward breast cancer research. (Etheridge had recently undergone surgery for breast cancer.)
Stone was officially recognized as the hip, classy up-and-comer when she became the spokesperson for the Gap store's summer campaign of 2005. She became not only the face, but also the sound of Gap. Stone's music was used in Gap ads beginning in April of that year. For the fall campaign, Stone joined recording stars such as Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair to compile a promotional CD for the Gap. Stone sang the Beach Boys's hit "God Only Knows" for that CD, which was released in September 2005.
Plays concerts in the park
In July 2005, Stone was one of more than one thousand musicians to donate their time and talent to participate in Live 8, a concert held in ten cities across the globe. Its mission was to raise awareness of poverty in Africa. Stone performed in London with a list of legendary musicians including Madonna, U2, Coldplay, Dido, Pink Floyd, and the Dave Matthews Band. Stone entertained millions of viewers with the songs "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Super Duper Love."
According to Contactmusic.com, Stone was so nervous before going on stage that she became violently ill. "I just get so worried about seeing such a massive crowd and not being able to hack it," the tall crooner is quoted as saying.
Just days after performing at Live 8, Stone showed up on stage at T in the Park, Scotland's largest music festival. A ticket to the festival brought you about one hundred musical performances over a period of two days. Stone was among many popular bands, including Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Snoop Dogg, and Audioslave. T in the Park is a phenomenally popular event. Twenty-five thousand tickets for the 2006 show sold out in three hours.
Stone and her boyfriend, Beau Dozier, live in Encino, California. Dozier, who is eight years older than Stone, is also
Live 8 Brings Together Politics and Food
In 1985, more than one hundred musicians performed at concerts held in Europe and the United States. The event was called Live Aid. More than 162,000 people attended the concerts, with an estimated 1.5 billion viewers tuning in to television broadcasts. Live Aid raised $200 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. The event was an amazing collaboration of celebrities and organizers, the chief being Irish rocker Bob Geldof (1951–).
Twenty years later, in July 2005, Geldof once again pulled off a spectacular feat: More than one thousand artists performed in four continents and ten cities. They were not paid one penny for their time or travel expenses. In total, $25 billion was pledged to Africa by the eight wealthiest nations in the world. This money would go directly to fight poverty and improve health care in Africa. Frontman Bono, of the famous band U2, put it this way in an article at Star-eCentral.com: "Live Aid raised $250 million (in 1985) and we were cock-a-hoop [thrilled]. But this is $25 billion for Africa and that's new money.... The world spoke, and the politicians listened."
According to the Live 8 Web site, more than one million people attended the concerts on July 2, while another two billion watched and listened via television. Tickets for the performances were free. Live 8 was held in conjunction with the G8 Summit. The Summit involved the eight most powerful nations (group of eight: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Russia) in the world, and they gathered in Britain to discuss how to help fight the alarming level of poverty in Africa. British prime minister Tony Blair (1953–) credited Live 8 with helping to make the G8 summit a "mighty achievement." By the time the summit ended, summit members had pledged an additional $25 billion in aid, bringing the total pledge to $50 billion. They also cancelled the debts of the eighteen poorest countries and committed to training twenty thousand peacekeepers for African American leaders to use to help usher in democracy.
Geldof initially did not want to plan Live 8. He explained his feelings to Pete Norman of People: "I'm loath to mess with Live Aid. It was a perfect day...." Geldof was approached by his old friend Bono to organize a new and improved event. After much arguing, Bono convinced Geldof that another concert event could work. Geldof told BBC News, "In 1985 it was about charity, raising money for charity, when it was Live Aid. Today it's about a campaign for justice and empowerment for millions of people around the world...."
At the time of the G8 Summit and Live 8, 51 percent of Africans were under the age of fifteen. About 1.9 million children were infected with the HIV virus (the virus that leads to the deadly AIDS disease), and 17 million Africans had already died from AIDS. AIDS stands for Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a disease that weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to many illnesses, and eventually kills its victims. According to Bono's DATA Web site, 6,300 Africans die every day fromAIDS or HIV infection. More than 300 million people—nearly half the population—of Sub-Saharan Africa live on $1 a day. But the country spends $30 billion a year repaying debts to the richest countries in the world.
her record producer. The two met when he helped produce her Mind, Body, & Soul album.
Stone planned to hit the recording studio with British pal Sir Elton John (1947–) to release a Christmas duet in 2005. Stone thought about another album during an interview published on EdmuntonSun.com: "I have so many ideas. Maybe I'll go a little funky, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll record it like this, maybe I won't. I'm not really sure. It'll be a nice surprise."
For More Information
Graham, Caroline. "Will Joss Stone's under-age love affair cost her the millions?" Daily Mail (April 3, 2005).
Norman, Pete. "Greatest Show on Earth: Backed by his stellar speed-dial and the historic success of Live Aid, Bob Geldof put together the sequel, Live 8." People (July 11, 2005).
Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA).http://www.data.org (accessed on August 8, 2005).
"Devon's young pop millionaires." BBC (April 1, 2005). http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/music/2005/04_april/music_millionaires.shtml (accessed on August 8, 2005).
Jamieson, Teddy. "Is Joss Stone big enough now to be her own boss?" The Herald (July 11, 2005). http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/42676.html (accessed on August 8, 2005).
"Joss and Muse do Devon proud at Brits." BBC.http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/music/2005/brits.shtml (accessed on August 8, 2005).
Joss Stone.http://www.jossstone.co.uk/ (accessed on August 8, 2005).
"Joss Stone: Biography." VH1.com. http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/stone_joss/bio.jhtml (accessed on August 8, 2005).
Live 8.http://www.live8live.com (accessed on August 8, 2005).
"Live 8 helped aid deal says Blair." BBC News (July 11, 2005). http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/uk_politics/4672797.stm (accessed August 8, 2005).
"Live 8 success hailed by Geldof." BBC News (July 3, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/entertainment/music/4645823.stm (accessed on August 8, 2005).
Rocca, Jane. "A pretty blonde with black soul." SMH.com (March 1, 2004). http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/01/1077989486224.html (accessed on August 8, 2005).
Simon, Scott. "Interview: Joss Stone and Betty Wright discuss Stone's singing career." NPR: Weekend Edition (September 13, 2003).
Singer and songwriter
Born Joscelyn Eve Stoker, April 11, 1987, in Ashill, Devon, England; daughter of Richard (a business owner) and Wendy Stoker.
Addresses: Contact—S-Curve Records, 150 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011. Home—Devon, England. Website—http://www.jossstone.com.
Landed recording deal with S-Curve Records, 2002; singer and songwriter, 2002—.
Supremely gifted British singer Joss Stone burst onto the R&B music scene in 2003 with the release of her debut album The Soul Sessions. Though Stone was just a teenager, her extraordinary vocal capabilities propelled the album to gold certification in the United States and helped jumpstart her career. Since then, Stone has become immensely popular with a broad fan base—her looks appeal to the younger crowd, while her music captures an older audience. Established musicians are eager to sing with her. Stone has sung alongside such music legends as Mick Jagger, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson, and Gladys Knight. Elton John even invited her to sing at one of his Oscar parties. In 2004 Stone released her second album, Mind, Body & Soul, which garnered three Grammy nominations, proving Stone to be much more than just a one-album novelty.
The third of four children, Stone was born Joscelyn Eve Stoker on April 11, 1987, in Ashill, Devon, England, to Richard and Wendy Stoker. Her father owns a fruit and nut import/export business; her mother used to manage vacation cottages but now spends her time chaperoning Stone while she is on tour. Stone's parents, though not musically inclined, enjoyed collecting albums and consequently, Stone spent her early years listening to lots of music. Her parents played rock and pop, including the Beatles, but also filled the house with the music of Anita Baker, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, and James Brown. When Stone was ten, she became captivated with Aretha Franklin after seeing a television commercial advertising one of the Queen of Soul's CDs. Stone promptly placed the music on her Christmas list. At home, Stone sung her heart out using a hair-brush for a microphone; at school, however, Stone was so shy her music teacher had no idea she could sing, let alone belt out soulful melodies.
Initially, Stone entered the music world for economic reasons—she wanted money. Around the time she was 12, her family got into an argument with neighbors over the ownership of a field that Stone rode her horse, Freddy, on. Stone's family could not afford to buy the field, so they sold her horse. Upset that her family could not afford the field, Stone decided to take matters into her own hands and get a job—she wondered if she could make money singing.
Around 2000, Stone entered a contest to appear on the BBC-TV talent show Star for a Night. She did not even know a whole song, so for her tryout Stone sent in a tape of herself singing half of "Amazing Grace," half of "Jesus Loves Me" and part of "This Little Light of Mine." The tape was good enough to earn her a live audition for the show. When the big day arrived, Stone planned to sing Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," but when she stepped before the judges, fear gripped her and she forgot the first line—the judges had to remind her. Despite the foible, once Stone got started, she nailed the song and earned the right to compete on the amateur talent show.
For this phase of the competition, Stone sang a Donna Summer tune, "On the Radio." Stone won the contest and was then asked to perform on a charity show, where she captured the attention of some London producers who contacted S-Curve Records chief executive officer Steve Greenberg, the man who discovered 1990s teen sensation Hanson. Intrigued by the young Brit, Greenberg flew Stone to New York in early 2002 so he could listen to her sing since she had no demo track. They downloaded karaoke tracks off the Internet and Stone added her voice—she sang "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay." Speaking to Joe D'Angelo of MTV.com, Greenberg recalled how Stone's voice astonished him. "When I first heard her sing, I really couldn't believe that this big, soulful, nuanced, precious, wonderful, knowing voice was coming out of this 14-year-old girl," he said. "It didn't make sense." With no second thoughts, Greenberg signed her to his label.
Stone's next adventure involved traveling back to the United States to record an album. Stone, a struggling dyslexic who hated school, was happy to quit and begin pursuing a music career. Stone has said the only part of school she liked was lunchtime. Greenberg arranged for Stone to work with 1970s and '80s soul pioneer Betty Wright, who received a 1974 Grammy Award for her song "Where Is the Love?". Working with a veteran like Wright pushed Stone to sing at a new level. Wright used her connections to hook Stone up with a phenomenal cast of musicians, including Miami soul scene players Willie "Little Beaver" Hale on guitar, Benny Latimore on piano, and Timmy Thomas on organ.
Speaking to USA Today's Steve Jones, Wright recalled the day she introduced Stone to the band members. Wright played Stone's vocals before the face-to-face introduction, and "they described her as 300 pounds. To have a voice like hers, she had to be a big girl. When they saw her come into the room, they didn't believe it was her."
For Stone, the introduction meant trial by fire; she had never sung with a band before. Together, they produced an album full of obscure old-school soul classics that showcased Stone's full vocal range. At times, her voice is high and pleasant, but there are also times when Stone drops her voice, treating listeners to her husky purr. A few of the songs featured on the album include Laura Lee's "Dirty Man," Sugar Billy's 1975 one-hit wonder "Super Duper Love" and Aretha Franklin's "All the King's Horses." Each song was rearranged and produced with a different feel than the original. Stone also recorded the White Stripes hit "Fell in Love With a Girl," though the song was remade as "Fell in Love With a Boy."
Stone spent less than a week recording the album, which was not intended to be a huge success. S-Curve simply wanted Stone to have something out on the market that could percolate on the underground so when Stone released her own album, she would have some name recognition. Instead, music lovers snatched up the album. It sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide and hit the Top 10 chart in 13 countries. It was certified gold in the United States. Besides making waves on the radio, "Fell in Love With a Boy" was picked up by MTV and VH1 as part of each music channel's video rotation, causing her popularity—and record sales—to surge. Soon, television hosts requested her presence and she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Last Call With Carson Daly.
Besides figuring out how to record with a band, Stone had to learn to perform live. She played her first gig at a tiny Miami place called the Tobacco Road. Stone was so nervous she cried, but eventually made it out on stage. Looking back, Stone acknowledges that the name change—from Joscelyn Stoker to Joss Stone—has helped her gain the courage to perform for audiences. She had been reluctant to change her name, but found that shedding her childhood moniker also helped her shed her adolescent anxiety. "I can't be Joss Stoker when I'm singing," she told the Daily Telegraph's Craig McLean, "because if I was, I'd stand by the mike [and] have my hair right over my face like this."
Becoming comfortable onstage has been Stone's biggest challenge; her trademark is to perform barefoot. When she sings, Stone's voice makes her seem like a seasoned veteran much older than her actual age. However, when a song ends, Stone often transforms back into the teenager that she is. According to Abigail Wild in the Glasgow Herald, a critic once noted, "As the song ends and the giggling begins, there's a moment of confusion, as if the audience can't quite believe the two noises are coming from the same mouth."
Stone's second album, Mind, Body & Soul, debuted in 2004. Stone says the title is fitting because in the first album, she was just giving audiences a little piece of her. It contained her voice and her emotions, but not her own songs. However, in her second album Stone says she bared all by sharing songs she had written herself, some when she was just 14.
In sum, Stone co-wrote eleven of the 14 songs with the help of seasoned songwriters such as Wright, Desmond Child, Portishead's Beth Gibbons, and Motown legend Lamont Dozier, whose son, Beau, she later dated. Their writing approach was carefree. "We'd just go in and vibe—we'd each think of something and mix it all up together," Stone told the Toronto Sun's Mary Dickie. "Ideas were flying around the room. I like that way of writing. I don't like it to be cut and dried—there's too much pressure. The idea is to have fun together." Stone has said she hopes to write a third album mostly on her own.
Mind, Body & Soul, filled with smoky vocals, includes the energizing kiss-off first single "You Had Me," the brazen, up-tempo "Don't Cha Wanna Ride," the rock-soul ballad "Killing Time," and "Spoiled," a lament on the downside of good luck. "Jet Lag," sung against a thumping backbeat, describes a love so sweeping that it is physically exhausting.
The album proved Stone's initial success was more than a fluke and that she would be staying on the charts for years to come. Like Soul Sessions, Mind went gold in the United States, meaning it sold more than 500,000 copies. The album also climbed the charts in England and Stone became the youngest female solo artist to have a number one album in Britain. Just 17, Stone was nine months younger than the previous record-holder, Avril Lavigne.
In addition, Stone received three Grammy nods for the album, including best new artist, best pop vocal album, and best female pop vocal performance, the latter for the track "You Had Me." Stone did not win in any category, but the night was nonetheless memorable. During the February of 2005 awards ceremony, Stone performed a duet with Grammy Award-winning rocker Melissa Etheridge. They paid tribute to 1960s rocker Janis Joplin by singing their own rendition of her 1968 classic "Piece of my Heart."
Though her music career is just getting started, Stone keeps an eye out for the future. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Stone said she was far from finished and noted that she does not even feel like she has accomplished much yet. "I want to act a bit. Later on, I kind of want to be a midwife."
For the time being, fans hope Stone stays put in the music world. In his profile of Stone for the Daily Telegraph, McLean said that he believed Stone has a long music career ahead of her. He wrote that she was "a supernaturally gifted performer who can feel and even inhabit a song, summoning up an intensity that vocalists twice, even three times her age are pushed to match. When her talent fully matures, the sky's the limit."
The Soul Sessions, S-Curve Records, 2003.
Mind, Body & Soul, S-Curve Records, 2004.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), September 18, 2004, p. 4; October 5, 2004, p. 10.
Entertainment Weekly, June 24/July 1, 2005, p. 108.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), October 23, 2004, p. 17.
People, November 17, 2003, p. 102.
Rolling Stone, November 11, 2004, pp. 47-48.
Toronto Sun, May 29, 2005, p. S10.
USA Today, October 3, 2003, p. 8E.
"Joss Stone," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/ news/yhif/stone_joss/ (October 2, 2005).
In a musical world dominated by hip teen idols like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Joss Stone is something of an anomaly. While the music of Spears and the like has defined contemporary pop, Stone's music is a throwback to 1960s and 1970s soul. "When people hear me, they're always shocked that I'm 16, I come from Devon, England, and I'm white," she told Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. "I don't really know what to say other than 'Thank you.' I take it as a compliment." Although skeptics wondered whether a teenager from Britain could sing classic soul with conviction, her album The Soul Sessions quickly silenced all doubts. "It brims with soul music from the American South," noted Jim Fusilli in an interview on All Things Considered. "Stone's breathy, restrained, yet passionate performance is in perfect pitch with the romance-on-the-edge lyrics." With a voice beyond her years and her choice to work within a tried and true genre, she has brought a new element to the contemporary music scene. "She's arguably the best white female soul voice to emerge in Britain since Dusty Springfield more than 40 years ago," wrote Alan Jackson in the British Times Magazine.
Stone was born Joscelyn Eve Stoker in Dover, England, in 1987, and later moved to Devon with her parents, Wendy and Richard Stoker. Her early taste in music would reflect her later musical path. Her favorite album was Aretha Franklin's Greatest Hits, and she also enjoyed listening to Gladys Knight and the Pips, Tracy Chapman, and Whitney Houston. Stone struggled with school, partly because she had dyslexia. She told Jackson, "Always, on my school report card, I'd get, 'Must try harder,' or 'Joscelyn has a problem with remembering.'" At age 14 she entered a contest on the British TV show Star for a Night, singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" and "It's Not Right, But It's Okay." She won, and through appearances on the program landed an audition with Steve Greenberg of S-Curve Records. She sang Donna Summer's "On the Radio," and Greenberg signed her to the label.
When it came time to record her first album, Stone planned to compete with other teen pop divas by recording self-penned material. But Greenberg had another idea. What if, he suggested, Stone teamed up with legendary soul musicians and record a number of lesser-known standards? "Greenberg decided that he wanted to celebrate the Miami Sound of the seventies," wrote Jay S. Jacobs in Pop Entertainment. While Stone was initially skeptical, she agreed. "He had the idea of doing an EP … with these soul legends," Stone told Jacobs. "Then it turned into this whole album thing." First Greenberg matched Stone with 1970s soul singer Betty Wright. Wright quickly became a mentor to the younger singer and bolstered the project by gathering a remarkable band that included guitarist Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, pianist Latimore, and organist Timmy Thomas.
The result was The Soul Sessions, an album boldly announcing Stone's arrival on the scene. It was completed live in the studio in only four days. "Stone's vocals are sassy and raw, and she accents key words with deep, breathy moans or pained bluesy rasps," wrote Lorraine Ali in Newsweek. Despite her retro sound, Stone tapped into the contemporary market by releasing a video version of "Fell in Love with a Boy" (originally a White Stripes song titled "Fell in Love With a Girl"). The Soul Sessions quickly sold over two million copies, establishing Stone as the hottest traditional singer since Norah Jones. "For a woman as young as Stone to tackle Carla Thomas' 'I've Fallen in Love With You' and Aretha Franklin's 'All the King's Horses,' not to mention John Ellison's nugget 'Some Kind of Wonderful,'" noted Thom Jurek in All Music Guide, "takes guts, chops, or a genuine delusional personality to pull off."
Stone returned to her original concept of recording new material on her second release, Mind Body, & Soul. While the music for the most part remained in the soul tradition, the recording leaned toward material co-written by Stone. "With a sound as easy as Sunday morning," wrote Renee Graham in the Boston Globe, "Mind, Body & Soul is one of the year's best albums, as Stone again proves she has talent to burn and soul to spare." Recorded when she was only 16, the album is a portrait of a young artist deepening her roots as she likewise grows in new directions. "By and large," wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine in All Music Guide, "the songs are good, too, sturdily written and hooky, growing in stature with each play."
Part of Stone's appeal is her naturalness, and this quality has been apparent in interviews as well as live performances. When her record label asked her to undergo media training, she balked. "Oh yeah, they tried that," she told Jackson, "but within 10 minutes I was having arguments with the lady. I mean, she was nice and everything, but I can't have someone putting words in my mouth." Like many young performers, Stone is currently managed by her mother, though their arrangement shows none of the strains typical of parent-child showbiz relationships. "I love her and Mum's always said that she'd manage me until I'm 18," Stone told Elton John in Interview.
Stone's quick rise to fame has led to appearances on Entertainment Weekly, Good Morning America, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and she opened shows for Sting in 2004. She has also sung a number of duets with legendary singers like Smokey Robinson and performed at high profile events like Elton John's Oscar night party. A highlight for Stone, however, was to sing with childhood idol Gladys Knight. "To meet—let alone sing—with Gladys … I totally adore her," she told Jackson. "And the power and control in that voice! I learnt so much that day, just from being in her presence." With two well-received albums, over two million albums sold, and a vital stage presence, Stone has proven that a singer can be relevant without kowtowing to the latest fashion. "It's when she puts her deep, worldly vocals to tunes that can stand the test of time," wrote Sara Schmelling in Live Daily, "that she truly makes her magic."
For the Record . . .
Born Joscelyn Eve Stoker on April 11, 1987, in Dover, England; daughter of Wendy and Richard Stoker.
Won contest to perform on British television program Star for a Night; signed with S-Curve Records and released The Soul Sessions, 2003; released Mind, Body & Soul, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—S-Curve Records, 150 5th Ave., 9th Fl., New York, NY 10011, website: http://www.s-curverecords.com/. Website—Joss Stone Official Website: http://www.jossstone.co.uk/.
The Soul Sessions, S-Curve, 2003.
Mind, Body & Soul, S-Curve, 2004.
Boston Globe September 28, 2004, p. E1.
Entertainment Weekly, October 3, 2003, p. 42.
Interview, August 2004, p. 98.
Newsweek, September 20, 2004, p. 55.
Times Magazine (London, England), September 4, 2004.
"Joss Stone: Soul Sister," Pop Entertainment, http:/popentertainment.com/ (October 16, 2004).
"Mind, Body & Soul," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (October 16, 2004).
"Music News," Live Daily, http://www.livedaily.com/ (October 16, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from an interview on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, September 4, 2003.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.