The librarian R&B superstar set to take Britain by storm

Americans have fallen in love with the Liverpool singer and now she is coming home. Kunal Dutta talks to her

She is the British sensation who is dominating American R&B. Her music has been nominated for six Grammys. She has been signed by Sony, written for Michael Jackson and worked with Dr Dre and Justin Timberlake. Yet mention the name Marsha Ambrosius to any self-respecting music fan in Britain and, chances are, it will be greeted with brow-furrowed bewilderment.

The Liverpool-born Ambrosius has taken America by storm after her debut album sold 96,000 copies in its first week, flying to the top of America's R&B chart and ranking second in the overall billboard chart. It was flanked by Adele and Mumford & Sons, making it the first time three British artists have dominated the US chart since 1985.

But unlike her chart rivals, Ambrosius remains something of an enigma back home. Her first flirtation with fame was as one half of the soul band Floetry, whose most successful record barely reached No 73 in Britain eight years ago.

All that will change when she embarks on a UK tour later this year.

Ambrosius, who was an assistant in Camden library, north London, while trying to persuade the music industry to take her seriously, admits that things in Britain have been slow.

"I just about made the cover of the Liverpool Echo recently. I wish my grandmother had been alive to see that," she says, speaking from the back of her tour bus bound from Cincinnati to Cleveland, part of a 24-date tour of the US, performing to more than 10,000 fans each night.

A number of British stars have tried to conquer America without luck. So what does Ambrosius have?

Music critic Nick Coleman says: "America is the home of all post-war R&B derived music. Anything we've done since 1956 is a copy, variant, or, in absolutely exceptional cases, an improvement."

It is Ambrosius's tweak to the R&B tradition that has led to her popularity. Her music, doesn't come from the cotton fields of America. It is shaped by growing up in Liverpool and London. Her song Far Away tackles the tricky subjects of bullying, gay-bashing and suicide, definitely not the standard menu for R&B.

She and former musical partner Natalie Stewart, a teenage friend from Brixton, started out as Floetry. "We used to be touring across America for up to nine months a year. The only reason I used to come home to England was for Christmas, to renew visas, or play the one-off gig to a small crowd of regulars in the Jazz Cafe."

The two parted for "artistic and personal reasons" in 2006. But with Stewart releasing her debut solo album last October, it means the two artists will be fighting to retain the love of America that first propelled them to fame. "There's no love lost," Ambrosius concedes. "But I wish her well."

At 33, Ambrosius is on the way to fulfilling her teenage ambitions. One, of course, remains: winning popularity in the country that, 12 years ago, forced her to seek it elsewhere.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas