More than 600 OU students graduated at our degree ceremonies at the Barbican last Friday. Professor Musa Mihsein, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic, presided, and I presented our honorary graduate, Joan Armatrading. This is my citation:
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, members of Senate, graduates and guests.
It is not every day I get to present a living legend: one who has inspired me and countless of other fans with her life, her music and the personal example she sets in everything she does.
Joan Anita Barbara Armatrading is a British singer and song-writer, a consummate musician of great integrity.
Three times Grammy-nominated, Joan is the first female UK artist to debut at number one in the Billboard Blues Chart. In a recording career spanning 40 years, she has released 20 albums, including her new album Starlight released last year. A woman of enormous energy, she is just back from another successful tour, this time in New Zealand and Australia.
With a string of gold, platinum and silver discs to her name, Joan is one of the most influential women in pop, and has been honoured by The Queen. She loves her audiences, and her audiences love her. Joan performed for Nelson Mandela twice – with Mandela dancing through her performance.
Joan has come a long way: born in Basseterre on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts, the third of six children, she came to live in Britain when she was seven, in Brookfields, a district of Birmingham. Her father had played in a band in his youth, but forbid his children from touching his guitar. When she was 14, Joan started writing songs. Her mother bought her a £3 guitar from a pawn shop in exchange for two prams. Guitars and Joan have been inseparable since.
What makes her such a class act? Joan creates music that is both subtle and sublime, and speaks to the heart and to the soul. She is for me somebody who has devoted herself first and foremost to her craft. Throughout her long career, however, no matter the accolades heaped upon her, Joan has focused on her music.
This is the quality I most singularly admire in her. As she herself has said: “I write because I love it.” Joan’s music is eclectic, ranging from jazz to soul to pop. She has arranged and played every musical instrument, except drums. I pay tribute to Joan for reaching people in a way which is authentic, inspiring, moving and memorable.
I mentioned that Joan sets a personal example, using her music skills and profile for the benefit of many good causes. In 1998, she released Lullabies With A Difference, in collaboration with other artists to raise money for the charity PACE which helps children with cerebral palsy. Joan also became an International Board Member and trustee for Camfed which provides education for girls in South Africa, in order to improve their standard of living.
She is unusually generous with her fellow artists, and has supported local talent throughout her career. In 2012 she gave 56 little known singer songwriters the opportunity to open her show in their home town or city on her UK and Ireland tour. Joan also put each of these artists on a three disc CD to showcase their writing and, of course, their performing skills, as well as presenting two shows on BBC Radio 2 highlighting the young musicians and their work.
To raise funds for charity, she ran her first marathon in New York at the age of 57. Her love of life and challenge does not stop there: she has always had a love of high-octane sports such as hot-air ballooning, abseiling and mountain-biking.
Despite her other awards and career successes, Joan says that her biggest achievement so far has been completing a BA (Hons) in History with The Open University in 2000. She has been a vocal supporter of the OU in interviews and the media ever since, serving as a trustee of the OU Foundation and donating to the University as part of the Big Give.
It is completely appropriate that this University, her alma mater, recognises her for her musical achievements.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, by authority of the Senate, I present to you for the degree of Doctor of the University, Joan Armatrading.
Lucian J. Hudson
Director of Communications
The Open University