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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing