Born Leslie Sebastian Charles, January 21, 1950, in Fyzabad, Trinidad; married Judy; children: Chesie, Anthony. Addresses: Residence-- London, England. Record company-- Arista Records, Inc., 6 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Smooth and glamorous, with a soothing voice and a charisma that makes him appear larger than life, Billy Ocean falls easily into the category of rhythm and blues/pop superstars that includes Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, and Jefferey Osborne. Even his stage name evokes images of a suave, glittering persona. His songs, such unmistakable hits as "Caribbean Queen," "Love Zone," and "Suddenly," are filled with sexy, romantic lyricism and danceable rhythms that speak to a crowd that wants to feel good.

But a closer look reveals a man in contradiction with his public image. Most music fans probably assumed, on first hearing Ocean's voice over the radio, that he was American. In fact, Ocean was born in Trinidad and grew up in London. Though being black may have been an advantage to the American r & b stars Ocean idolized as a young man, Ocean explains that he had trouble gaining notoriety as a black singer in London. "It's very difficult for black artists to get their records played on the radio [in London]," he told Rolling Stone. "When something comes from America, it's ten times more successful than something that comes from here."

Even more contrary to his bona fide superstar status, Ocean seems, even on the heels of three immensely successful LPs in the 1980s, remarkably unaffected by his financial success. "He doesn't have a mansion," writes Rolling Stone 's Michael Azerrad. "He drives a Volkswagen Golf. 'Material things are too much for the mind,' Ocean says dismissively. He is vaguely spiritual, but he doesn't go to church. He has been married for ten years, has three kids and helps support his mother and three sisters. Ocean doesn't touch cigarettes or alcohol and stays out of the whirl of publicity and parties that he calls 'the socializing thing.' In his leisure time he likes to do a bit of gardening."

To better understand the humility that lies behind the glittering character dancing and singing on television videos, it is best to retreat to Ocean's childhood in Trinidad, where he was born Leslie Sebastian Charles in 1950. Music was a big part of young Charles's life; his father, an amateur calypso musician, used to push his son toward center stage to sing at parties. The boy was even forced to sing in an all-girls choir when his sister/babysitter dragged him to her choir practices rather than leave him home alone. He received his first musical instrument, a ukulele, from a friend of the family when he was three. "The other kids in the village all had guns to play war," Ocean told People. "I got a guitar and played calypso."

Ocean was eight when his family moved to London's East End in search of better opportunity. But as his interest in music grew, his grades in school deteriorated badly, so, to satisfy his parents wishes, Ocean became a tailor's apprentice. At night, however, he began singing with local bands. He was working successfully on London's Savile Row as a tailor when, one day on the job, he heard one of his singles on the radio. Ocean was promptly fired from that job because he "wasn't one hundred percent with the firm," but he continued recording under such stage names as Piggy Bank and Sam Spade. At age twenty-five he was working in a Ford auto assembly plant when his single "Love Really Hurts" hit number two on the U.K. charts. He quit the job and never went back.

It was around this time that the "man with a hundred names" finally decided to call himself Billy Ocean for the rest of his career. He took the name from a football team he had followed in Trinidad called Oceans Eleven, then added Billy. Billy Ocean continued to have minor successes with a number of singles in late 1970s Great Britain. His 1982 hit single "Nights (Feel Like Gettin' Down)" became popular in America when it was chosen to play on a popular Jane Fonda aerobics video. But when GTO, the label Ocean recorded for, was bought out by CBS Records, Ocean's career stalled. The new label's plans for Ocean were sketchy, at best, and contract squabbles kept the singer out of the recording studio for a couple of years. To make matters worse, Ocean's depression was compounded by the tragic death of his infant son.

But the singer's career received a huge boost in 1984 when he was signed by the Jive label. That year he released the LP Suddenly, which took the world by storm with several hit singles, including "Caribbean Queen," Ocean's biggest hit ever. Suddenly has sold more than two million copies to date, and "Caribbean Queen" won Ocean a Grammy award. Ocean followed this success with two more platinum albums, Love Zone (1986) and Tear Down These Walls (1988). He also had a runaway hit with "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going," which appeared on the soundtrack to the film Jewel of the Nile.

Though his popularity has been proven with consistently strong record sales, Ocean is not without his critics, some of whom take issue with Ocean's tendency to write his songs according to a pop formula. "Billy Ocean's voice is no more innocuous, and no more distinctive, for that matter, than that of Freddie Jackson, James Ingram or Jeffrey Osborne," writes Rolling Stone 's Rob Hoerburger. "The reason Ocean's had more pop success than the others seems to have been his uncanny ability to recycle past hits. 'Caribbean Queen' was merely a dressed-down 'Billie Jean'; 'Loverboy' just a bit less than 'Urgent'; and 'Suddenly' an echo of 'Hello.' Familiarity, it seems, breeds the Top Ten."

But Ocean acknowledges these shortcomings readily, without bitterness. He knows what he is trying to accomplish with his music, and he knows his own limitations. He's only giving his fans more of what they want. "I just try to instill happiness in my music," he told Rolling Stone. "You know, my songs may not be the best songs in the world, but I really think that what I lack in talent and everything, I gain in approach. I just want it to be fun. I just want it to be loose."

by David Collins

Billy Ocean's Career

Worked as tailor on London's Savile Row as teenager; began singing in clubs with bands such as Shades of Midnight and Dry Ice; recorded several singles in 1970s under such stage names as Piggy Bank, Scorched Earth, and Sam Spade; single "Love Really Hurts" reached Number 2 on U.K. charts; signed recording contract with Jive Records, 1984.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 14 years ago

I was at Billy Ocean at Vicar Street Dublin,last night , Sunday 30 may 10, HE was excellent , a great entertainer , and crowd pleaser , what a guy , loved all the songs he sang

about 14 years ago

saw billy ocean at blackburn king georges hall last night. the most fantastic concert i have ever seen, the musicians were brilliant and billy was stupendous, what a lovely guy.

about 14 years ago

billy ocean played ay warner farm in selsey and it was the best night ever, he still sounds great, everyone was up dancing and singing along and couldn't get close enough to the stage. i managed to get him to sign my t-shirt and my friend got her handbag signed. we would definately go and see him again.

over 15 years ago

Basingstoke at The Anvil - what a brilliant evening. Billy has got better looking with age and his voice is stronger than ever. He comes across as a lovely person, he really reached the audience. Got everyone dancing and singing which was lovely. He looks brilliant and I can't believe he's 59 - what a mover. His band and singers were very good too. He generously did a brilliant long encore. ONE MORE NIGHT ??!!! please please.

over 15 years ago

Just been to see Billy Ocean at Salisbury City Hall tonight, where he mesmorised the entire audience. Taking into account that people's voices change as they get older and singing becomes a little more difficult..Billie's voice was outstanding and is as absolutely amazing. His musicians & backing singers are just A+ not to go without mentioning the little inspirational words and comments that Billy made between his songs too.

over 15 years ago

Wow, I saw Billy Ocean last night at the Edinburgh Playhouse and he was fabulous. He had the whole place up on their feet dancing. What an amazing singer live and I also enjoyed his backing singers who were great all in all a great night out.

over 15 years ago

Oh my word!! Saw Billy last night at the Derngate in Northampton - totally awesome. World class, every song he sang was with so much passion and sincerity and the whole place was alive. His band and backing singers were excellent too! One of the backing singers being his eldest daughter. You are an inspiration Billy, keep touring and we'll keep supporting you 100%.

over 16 years ago

I Love Billy Ocean's songs, ALL OF THEM! He really "picks me up" when my mood's down, as Andreina Debiase put it. Never had a chance to meet him, though (I am a Ugandan), but i've seen lots of his music videos and, yes, I do admire him, especially his struggle up the music world.

over 16 years ago

I have always loved Billy Ocean's music, when i am feeling down, i listen to his music and it is a pick me up. I went to see him at the Manchester Opera House on the 24th Oct 07, and it was the best concert i have ever been to, and i have been to quite a few in my life. he is amazing and i love him