Songwriter Profile: Joss Stone

Joss Stone

The Power of Love

At just 16 years old, Joss Stone was launched into the international spotlight with her 2003 multi-platinum debut album, The Soul Sessions, following a contest win on BBC’s Star For A Night. Auditioning with covers of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin) and “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” (Whitney Houston), she went on to sing on the show at 13. However, while her soulful vocals defied her age, her path to music was somewhat accidental.

With a fierce love of animals (a dedicated vegetarian and outspoken advocate for PETA), Stone originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but thought better of it after realizing how much schooling was required. Overhearing her parents discussing the sale of a family horse, she hatched a plan to keep it by applying to be a contestant on a BBC television show looking for singers (and planned to use the prize money to keep the horse). Following her win, she performed on a charity show with The Boilerhouse Boys (U.K. production duo Andy Dean and Ben Wolfe), who connected her with S-Curve Records founder and CEO Steve Greenberg. Performing a trifecta of classics from Otis Redding, Gladys Knight, and Aretha Franklin for him, Stone was signed on the spot.

Listening to James Brown, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and “big voices” Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, and Melissa Etheridge (Stone confesses she knows every ad-lib on Etheridge’s Brave and Crazy) growing up, Stone’s first public performance was a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” in grade school. Frequently complimented on her simple, pure sound and uncomplicated delivery, she confesses, “I just sang. My thing was just [to] tell the story and mean it, but every time I had to play it back, I hated it.” Stone adds, “My dad reminded me that ‘this isn’t about us—it’s about the people that are listening. Don’t be so selfish.’”

Looking back, Stone says that her first album—under the mentorship of Betty Wright—helped her learn what a good song was and how to sing it. 2004’s Mind, Body & Soul involved songwriting collaboration with Jonathan Shorten, with “Jetlag” being one of her first co-writes. “I’m all about melody and lyrics [and] will get involved in writing string, horn, and sometimes bass lines,” says Stone, “but the piano—that is someone else. It’s hard to sing a chord to someone.” Stone would love to work and write with up-and-comers, encouraging them the way Wright did for her. “You do need a little bit of guidance and a little bit of confidence,” admits Stone. “Sometimes you don’t get that on your own, [but] someone can give it to you.”

Stone shares that “when you collaborate, you end up with the best of both worlds” and advises to stay open-minded, loving, and to “make sure that you’re always listening.” She adds, “It’s not about everything you want to say—it’s about the song in the room that is already in existence. All you have to do is open your ears and hear it—and always press record—because you will forget it all.” Stone’s favorite project to date is a perfect example: her work with SuperHeavy. Sitting with just a pen and paper in the middle of Jim Henson Studios with heavyweights A. R. Rahman, Damien Marley, Dave Stewart, and Mick Jagger, she describes it as the “most wonderful and completely mental experience.” Stone reveals, “Music just began in that room. Everyone just joined in and nestled into each other’s sound [and] listened to each other. No one was telling anyone else what to do—everyone was just doing their thing, and it was a true melding of minds.” They delivered 29 songs in 10 days.

In addition to eight records (three with Platinum status), three EPs and a compilation album, Brit and Grammy Awards, and selling over 15 million records, Stone has launched her own label (Stone’d Records) and podcast (A Cuppa Happy), forayed into acting (Eragon, The Tudors, Empire), and won 2021’s The Masked Singer (as the sausage). 

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