The American soul singer has been enlisted to get the party started at this year's Abu Dhabi Chequered Flag Ball. We talk to her about her long career and working alongside John Lennon and Culture Club.
Jocelyn Brown brings her big voice to capital for F1
The Chequered Flag Ball is a different kind of gig – all fancy suits and some folk not used to a night out dancing. Do you plan to do anything special for the occasion?
You know, I don’t really prepare. I just go and do my thing and have a good time and hope other people have a good time, too. My show is high energy, as always. That’s how I approach it from the beginning to the end.
After some success in America in the 1980s, especially with 1984’s Somebody Else’s Guy and Love’s Gonna Get You (1985), you moved to London in 1990 and have remained there since. Why?
The thing was that back in America at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s the R&B scene became not fulfilling and people lost their gigs because it turned into more rap and techno. So I went to Britain to extend my career and meet other producers and writers and they asked me whether I could do different songs. I said sure, because being a songstress allows you to do all kinds of music.
You toured with Culture Club at the height of their fame – that must have been an interesting time.
That was before, when I was still in America. It was a different experience working with a British band, producer and artist. I had a great time with George and the band. The tour was a big eye-opener and it made you realise what you need to be successful in the music business.
You also sued Snap! for not crediting you after sampling your voice for the “I got the power” hook in their 1990 hit The Power.
Snap! needed to escalate that song The Power and they used it without my consent. It is still an ongoing battle and it has affected my fans but they know that [the voice] on that song is me. But it would be nice for them to recognise it and publicly announce it.
When did you realise that your big voice was also suited for clubby tracks?
Well I didn’t really recognise it until I was called up to do Caught Up [with Inner Life in 1979]. There were other small tunes that I did, but that song got the ball rolling. I didn’t know that my voice could sit on it, so I was flattered. But the thing is, I come from a gospel heritage, so a lot of the energy and that high power comes from that soulfulness and that is what grabbed everybody and allowed me to be who I am in the business.
You also worked on John Lennon’s 1973 album Mind Games as part of the Something Different Choir. How was Lennon in the studio?
I was in my younger days and John was looking for a trio of backup singers to do the album. He was great, he had a wonderful spirit and a great personality. He was funny and taught me everything about sushi and gave me great inside information on the industry to further my life and understand what I was dealing with.
Any other great advice you received from stars you worked with?
Chaka Khan told me: “Never let them change you.” Bette Midler told me to keep my head up and just keep going. John Lennon told me to take chances with my voice. I had some great information given to me and great support.
• Jocelyn Brown will perform as part of the Abu Dhabi Chequered Flag Ball at the St Regis on Saadiyat Island tomorrow. Tickets start at Dh2,000, which includes a welcome reception and four-course dinner. For more details visit www.chequeredflagball.com