Born Joscelyn Eve Stoker on April 11, 1987, in Dover, England; daughter of Wendy and Richard Stoker. 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/.
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."
by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr
Joss Stone's Career
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.
- 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.