Joan Armatrading 1950–
West Indian-born British songwriter, singer, and musician.
Armatrading's work consistently and intensely explores the theme of women trying to reconcile a need for independence with a need to love and be loved. In reference to this issue Armatrading expresses what critics have called a "guarded or careful optimism." When her work surfaced in England in the early 1970s, admiring critics cautiously considered it "too good, too complex, and too demanding" to find a large following. In spite of this prediction, her third album, Joan Armatrading, produced two hit singles and became a gold album in England where she is a top-billed performer. In the United States, her audience is growing, dedicated, and at times, fanatic.
Armatrading is noted for the passion, irony, and wit with which she explores her subjects. She presents her audience not so much with an analysis of emotion as with the emotions themselves. Her strongest advocates are young women who feel that what appears to be sexually ambiguous in her lyrics only reflects the reality a modern woman faces in a period of changing roles and expectations.
Armatrading's writing reflects the character of an intensely private individual. She has been accused of being deliberately obscure in an attempt to disguise painful personal experiences; however she insists that her work is not specifically autobiographical. She has been called arrogant by critics who find her more difficult songs unnecessarily trying. Others maintain that the apparent distance placed between the song-writer and her subjects preserves the purity of her statements, giving them a certain universality that confessional writing often smothers.
Because Armatrading is a black woman, political and social activists have hoped that she might write for their specific causes. While she may be sympathetic with social concerns she has yet to align herself with any specific ideology. Rather, she continues to address issues in her work that are relevant to both men and women and has said that the best thing she can do to help women is to be a woman who is succeeding.