Joss Stone - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
As a British teenage ingénue with a seemingly unlimited vocal range and penchant for Brill Building classicism, Joss Stone emerged in 2003 as the ultimate American Idol contestant who never appeared on American Idol. Fresh, talented, and beautiful, Stone possessed all the qualities of an American Idol winner without the weighty over-exposed baggage that sinks most Idol champions once they go pro (Kelly Clarkeson withstanding, although in recent years the careers of Stone and Clarkeson have grown eerily similar). The story of the pretty young girl with the big booming voice has been a stock and trade music industry commodity since…well, the birth of the music industry. In this respect, Joss Stone is no different from her predecessors of the last 50 years. Yet the 16 year-old from Dover possessed a few qualities her contemporary peers like Christina Aguilara and Britney Spears did not: namely, she initially only performed soul standards at a time when classic soul from the 60’s and early 70’s was enjoying a prolific resurgence in popular culture (helped in large part by the American Idol covers only format), and she was able to tap into the inherent maturity of great soul music despite her youth, making her something of golden child. After her worldwide smash hit debut, The Soul Sessions (2003 S-Curve) established Stone as an international star the question then became: who is Joss Stone really? As an artist offering only covers (and great covers they are, without a doubt) what is Joss Stone really offering other than a pretty voice? It’s a question Stone wrestled with on two subsequent full length albums that found the young diva flirting with various musical personas with hit and miss results. Stone is still barely into her 20’s so it’s easy to identify with her search for the right persona and despite some wrong turns Stone’s continued experimentalism reaps more inspired results than sour fruit.
Jocelyn Eve Stocker was born in Dover, England on April 11, 1987. At a young age Stone began emulating the vocal styles of iconic soul artists from the 60’s and 70’s like Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield. By age 14 she had cultivated a remarkably powerful and adroit singing voice that belied her young age and secured her a position on the BBC-TV talent show Star for a Night. Stone went on to win the televised contest by sticking to renditions of the classic soul material she heard growing up. In 2002, Stone traveled to New York for an audition with S-Curve label head Steve Greenberg. Bowled over by the starlet’s powerful execution of Donna Summer’s “On the Radio”, Greenberg signed young Jocelyn Stocker immediately, had her take the stage name Joss Stone, and rushed the 16 year-old into a Miami recording studio to record a debut EP. Featuring contributions from an all star cast of Miami soul veterans like Benny Latimore, Betty Wright, and Little Beaver with a little help from contemporary R&B artists like Angie Stone and ?uestlove of The Roots, The Soul Sessions (2003 S-Curve) was recorded in just 4 days and featured neo-soul renditions of classic 70’s soul standards, including a variation on The White Stripes breakthrough 2001 hit “Fell In Love With A Girl”, which was re-titled “Fell In Love With A Boy”. The Soul Sessions was a massive hit in the UK almost instantly and it wasn’t long before Stone’s “little girl with the big voice” notoriety spread to North America, with The Soul Sessions eventually going triple platinum.
Mind, Body, & Soul (2004 S-Curve) successfully made the transition from covers to original material and reunited Stone with many of The Soul Sessions collaborators. Where her previous effort was an introductory test drive of Stone’s booming voice, Mind, Body & Soul added subtle hip hop beats to more radio friendly and upbeat R&B material, tailor made to net a younger audience while still pleasing older fans of traditional soul music. Unlike her various young R&B peers, most of the tracks on the album were either written or co-written by Stone, proving there was more to the artist than just a pretty voice. Mind, Body & Soul entered the UK charts at #1 and was eventually certified triple platinum, spawning the singles, “You Had Me”, “Don’t Cha Wanna Ride”, “Right to Be Wild”, and “Spoiled”. Around this time Stone became of the subject of media scrutiny when it was revealed the 17 year-old was living with her 25 year-old boyfriend, Beau Dozier, son of Motown legend Lamont Dozier. Despite the illegal cohabitation controversy Stone went on to win two BRIT Awards for British Urban Act, and is currently the youngest recipient of the British Female Solo Artist award. Stone was also nominated for three Grammy Awards and performed a medley of Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby/Piece of My Heart” with Melissa Etheridge as a moving tribute to the late rock legend during the ceremony. That same year Stone also became the spokesperson for Gap clothing stores, appearing in numerous commercial spots for the chain.
Stone traveled to the Bahamas to write lyrical content for a sophomore full length largely based on her subsequent breakup with Dozier. Produced by Raphael Saadiq and featuring big name guest artists like Lauryn Hill and Common, Introducing Joss Stone (2007 Virgin/EMI) was heavier on hip hop beats and sleek modern production aesthetics than previous releases with Stone once again writing the majority of the songs herself. Critics gave the album a mixed reception with many lamenting Stone’s abandonment of the classic soul sound for the over-produced glaze of neo-soul. Although Introducing Joss Stone was another commercial success the album was somewhat overshadowed by another British neo-soul artist (with a more tabloid friendly social life) named Amy Winehouse. Undaunted, Stone hit the road for not one, but two national U.S. tours throughout the summer of 2007. In a surprising move, Stone announced her intention to split with current label, EMI, just before the tour commenced, instigating a lengthy legal battle since Stone was still contractually bound to a three album deal with label. Stone is currently shooting her second feature film, Snappers, a romantic comedy about a young starlet plagued by paparazzi on a fictitious film set in Devon, England. She is also slated to write and perform the soundtrack for the film. Stone made her big screen debut as the witch Angela in the 2006 fantasy adventure film, Eragon.