Unless you've been living in a cave since the late '70s, you have likely heard Jocelyn Brown's voice at one point or another. Brown's immensely power-packed and impassioned voice has been at the fore of several definitive and timeless disco classics, and it has also been present in background roles on numerous others. Short-lived disco groups like Inner Life and Musique hit the upper reaches of the club charts in large part due to Brown's contributions, and she has also had success as a solo performer. Producer Patrick Adams, an associate of Brown's during her time spent with the above-mentioned acts, has referred to her as one of the greatest vocalists he has ever known. After becoming familiar with the vocalist's scattered but rich discography, it's hard to disagree with that observation.
It comes to no surprise after hearing Brown's voice to learn that her background is rooted in gospel. Born in 1950 in Kingston, South Carolina, Brown grew up in a very musical and religious family. Several members of her family participated in church choirs and performed as minstrel singers, but it was her aunt, Barbara Roy (aka Barbara Gaskin), a member of Ecstasy, Passion & Pain, who helped inspire her to move on to secular music. Though Brown had been familiar with studio settings since the age of 14, she began working prolifically during the latter half of the '70s and set aside her aspiration to become a teacher. Session work with stateside groups like Machine, Kleeer, and Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes was just as steady as work with international artists like Italy's Cerrone and Change. During this period, the then-married Brown was often credited as Jocelyn Shaw.
One of Brown's most noteworthy runs of success came as a member of Patrick Adams' Musique, a group that scored a pair of major club hits in 1978 with "Keep on Jumpin'" and "In the Bush" (or "Push, Push, in the Bush," as some know it). A Prelude-released 12" with both songs on one platter reached number one on Billboard's club chart. The following year, Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams initiated the longer-lived Inner Life. With Brown front and center, the group's debut single, "I'm Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair)," hit number seven on the club chart before cracking the Top 25 of the R&B chart the next year. A version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," remixed to sweeping effect by DJ Larry Levan of the Paradise Garage — an underground dance mecca where Brown often performed — and "Moment of My Life" followed, respectively, in 1981 and 1982. Though neither one charted as high as "I'm Caught Up," they too became disco classics.
Brown finally broke as a solo artist in 1984 with "Somebody Else's Guy," a number two R&B smash written with her sister, Annette Brown. Vinyl Dreams issued an LP that year that collected Inner Life material with her recent solo work. An album for Warner Bros., One from the Heart, didn't perform commercially and got her bumped from the label. More solo singles followed in 1986 and 1987 that charted but didn't fare nearly as well as her earlier success. During this hot period from the late '70s to the close of the '80s, Brown also kept a busy schedule as a session singer for a wide range of artists: Bette Midler, Manu Dibango, Chic, Candido, Steve Winwood, Lou Reed, Culture Club, Mick Jagger, and Diana Ross represent a small fraction of the artists who used Brown's talent during this period.
Brown continued to work steadily throughout the '90s and early 2000s, and her vocals were frequently sampled as well. Snap's "The Power," an unavoidable dance-pop single from 1990, sampled the singer's voice from her own "Love's Gonna Get You," a song that was also appropriated by Bizarre Inc. in 1992 for "I'm Gonna Get You." Through the remainder of the '90s, Brown worked extensively with the likes of Todd Terry, Incognito, and Masters at Work, and began working as a jingle artist. A number of anthologies sprouted up during those same later years — Deep Beats and Moment of My Life among them. Brown was featured on another assortment of dance recordings during the 2000s and 2010s, and she recorded a contemporary gospel album, True Praise, released in 2010. ~ Andy Kellman