Women’s History Month Spotlight: 5 Essential Songs from Joan Armatrading
Joan Armatrading was born in 1950 on St. Kitts. When she was three, her parents and her brothers moved to Birmingham, England, and Armatrading eventually joined them, after living with her grandmother on Antigua for four years.
Armatrading’s love of writing, and her penchant for putting words together, started early in life; prior to her teenage years, she was always jotting down poems, jokes, and short stories. When Armatrading was 14, her mother bought a piano for the family’s living room because it looked like a nice piece of furniture. Soon, Armatrading was teaching herself how to play the piano and writing songs on it. She then saw a guitar in a local pawn shop and asked her mother to buy it for her; though she couldn’t afford to pay for the guitar, Armatrading’s mother traded two prams for her daughter’s first guitar, which Armatrading taught herself to play.
Armatrading played her first show at Birmingham University when she was 16. Over the next few years, she performed in local clubs in the area, and in 1972 released her debut album Whatever’s for Us with Cube Records. The album failed to produce any hits, and Armatrading moved on to A&M Records for her 1975 album Back to the Night. In 1976, she had her first Top-10 hit with the single “Love and Affection,” from her eponymous album Joan Armatrading.
Over the next 45 years, Armatrading released 20 albums, each showcasing her ceaseless ingenuity as a lyricist and instrumentalist as she moved effortlessly across musical styles from blues and folk to jazz and rock. A three-time Grammy nominee, Armatrading was given a BASCA Gold Badge Award in 2011 for her contribution to music, and she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. In 2001, she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and in 2020 she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Armatrading’s distinctive vocals, her commanding guitar riffs, and her emotionally charged lyrics radiate a musical genius. Although commercial radio seldom picked up her songs, Armatrading has developed a strong following among fans of her bittersweet songs about love and pain. As a Black woman playing a hard-charging rock guitar in the 1970s, she cleared a path for a new generation of singer-songwriters. After more than 50 years, Joan Armatrading continues to be an innovative presence, always observing and writing songs that grow out of her ability to see the world in all its raw beauty.
“Whatever’s For Us”
“Love and Affection”
“To Be Loved”
“If Women Ruled the World”