Joan Armatrading was born in 1950 in Basseterre on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts, the third of six children. When she was three years old, her parents moved with their two eldest boys to Birmingham, England, while Joan was sent to live with her grandmother on the Caribbean island of Antigua. She joined her parents in Birmingham at the age of seven.
Her father had played in a band in his youth and Joan began writing songs by setting her own limericks to music on a piano that her mother had purchased as “a piece of furniture” around the age of 14. Shortly after, her mother bought her a £3 guitar from a pawn shop in exchange for two prams, and Joan began teaching herself guitar.
Leaving school at the age of 15 to support her family, Joan performed her own songs around the local area with a friend from school, playing bass and rhythm guitar at local clubs.
In 1968, Joan joined a repertory production of the stage musical Hair. There she met the lyricist Pam Nestor in 1970, and they worked together on her debut album Whatever’s for Us, released by Cube Records in 1972. Pam Nestor wrote the lyrics to 11 of the 14 songs on the album, while Joan wrote the lyrics to three of them, performed all the vocals, wrote all the music and played an array of instruments on the album.
Her second album, Joan Armatrading launched into the Top 20 and included the Top 10 hit single Love and Affection in 1976. The album mixed acoustic work with jazz-influenced material. The 1970s saw her become the first black British female singer/ songwriter to enjoy international success.
In 1980, she radically revised her playing style and released a harder pop-oriented album, Me Myself I. The album became her highest ever charting album both in the UK and the US, and the title track became her second UK Top 40 hit single.
After a long period of no real commercial success for her albums, Joan’s 2007 album Into the Blues debuted at #1 on the US Billboard Blues Chart, making Joan the first UK female artist to earn that distinction. It was nominated for a Grammy Award, also making her the first female UK artist to be nominated in the Grammy Blues category.
Joan Armatrading has always supported new music and local talent. For her 2012 Starlight tour she invited 56 singer–songwriters/artists to open for her in their respective home towns. Each of the artists opening for her also had a track selected for a three disc compilation and featured in a series on BBC Radio Two showcasing the artists.
In a recording career spanning 46 years, Joan Armatrading has released 19 studio albums, as well as several live albums and compilations. She performs on both six- and twelve-string acoustic and electric guitars.
She has been nominated three times for a Grammy Award and twice for a Brit Award as best female vocalist.
Joan was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2001.
I’ve always written songs from observation, about what I see other people going through. The optimistic songs reveal a bit more of me because that’s how I feel. I’m definitely a ‘glass half full’ kind of a person.