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).
— Lisa Frick