Joanne Catherall is an English singer who is best known as one of the members of the popular synth-pop band named ‘The Human League.’ Born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Joanne grew up as a regular young girl with no training in music and no aspirations of making a career in the music industry. She, however, liked visiting nightclubs frequently when she was in high school. At 18, she was spotted by ‘The Human League’s Philip Oakey, who invited her and her best friend, Susan, to join his band. Joanne was interested. Her parents refused initially but later allowed her to join the band. This began as a one-time tour, and Joanne eventually ended up joining the band full-time. In 1981, the band released their debut single, ‘Boys and Girls,’ which grabbed the attention of the masses. One of their early singles, ‘Don’t You Want Me,’ became the band’s first major breakthrough. Since then, Philip, Joanne, and Susan have released seven albums, including ‘Hysteria,’ ‘Crash,’ and ‘Octopus.’ The band is known as one of the most successful synth-pop bands in history and has performed in many countries around the globe.
Childhood & Early Life
Joanne Catherall was born on September 18, 1962, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. She belonged to a middle-class English family with no history in show business or the entertainment industry.
She attended schools like an average kid. As she stepped into her teenage years, she began partying around in the nightclubs of Sheffield. Her future bandmate Susan was her best friend during her high-school years.
The band ‘The Human League’ was going through a rough patch back then, as many band members had left it by 1978. A member of the band, Philip “Phil” Oakey, spotted Joanne and Susan in a nightclub called ‘Crazy Daisy.’ He liked the energy the two 18-year-old girls exhibited on the dance floor. He approached them with a proposal to join the band on an upcoming tour across Germany.
Joanne was excited, as electro pop was the new craze in the music scene in those years, and she loved music, too. Also, electro pop did not require too much musical knowledge. However, she knew that her parents would not agree to this, as she was still in high school.
The band was supposed to perform at the U.K. army base in Germany, and it was a short tour. Though they had issues with the whole thing initially, Joanne’s parents were convinced after Philip came to meet them. Their teachers were also convinced after a while. They thought that a trip to Germany could be good for their academics, too.
Phil had already signed a contract to perform in Germany. As he was alone by that time, he feared he might be sued if the show got canceled. In Susan and Joanne, he found great company, and the show was a success. All Joanne and Susan had to do was whisper some vocals into the microphone, while Phil took care of the sound and music production.
Motivated by the success of the show, Phil offered them both full-time positions in the band. The girls had formerly planned to attend university after school, but they dropped their plans in favor of an unexpected musical career.
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Joanne’s initial experience in the band was not good. She was hired on an insignificant weekly salary. She accompanied the band on the tours that were already in line before she joined the group. However, the audiences expected the old all-male band. Joanne and Susan were heckled on stage in many instances.
Despite that, they performed well. They sang background vocals and danced quite well, which made Phil hire them as permanent band members.
The band began recording music right away. While Adrian Wright and Phil took on major duties such as writing and recording songs, the girls were mostly there to perform on stage and record background vocals.
In 1981, the renewed band released a single called ‘Boys & Girls.’ The song was featured at the 48th spot on the U.K. charts. Despite this moderate success, it was still the most successful single released by the band till then. However, the song was recorded without any female vocals. Meanwhile, Joanne and Susan resumed their high-school education, before joining the band full-time.
Another single from the band, titled ‘Sound of the Crowd,’ used vocals by Joanne. It turned out to be band’s first major commercial success. The band got a chance to perform on ‘BBC TV’ at a few hours’ notice. It was Joanne’s first time on TV. She wore kohl and red lipstick on the show, which became her trademark style.
In October 1981, the band released their next album, ‘Dare.’ It was also Joanne’s first album with the band. By the time the album was released, the band had become extremely popular with the English public. The album became a massive success, both critically and commercially.
In 1982, the band earned the ‘BRIT Award’ for the ‘Best British Breakthrough Act.’
The music video for the song ‘Don’t You Want Me,’ which was released by ‘Virgin Records,’ became a massive hit. The music video rose to number 1 in the U.K., owing to a great viewership on TV. The song also made it to the U.S. with ‘MTV’ and acquired the top spot there, too.
The band embarked on a successful international tour. Following the tour, the band began working on their next album. Titled ‘Hysteria,’ the album was released in mid-1984. The album debuted straight to the third spot on the U.K. albums chart. However, the overall moderate critical and commercial response to the album caused it to drop out of the chart very soon.
In 1986, the band released a single titled ‘Human,’ which featured Joanne as the main singer. The song topped the charts in the U.S. and was featured among the top 10 songs in the U.K. for weeks. The subsequent album, ‘Crash,’ received a fairly moderate response.
The band’s 1990 album ‘Romantic?’ received a cold response from both critics and audiences. The album was featured on the music charts very briefly. The band now consisted mainly of Susan, Joanne, and Phil, as the other regular members kept quitting.
In 1995, the band released the album titled ‘Octopus,’ which was basically a compilation of band’s previously rejected songs. The album was successful, and the band went on to perform on a few TV channels.
Since then, the band has released two more albums, ‘Secrets’ (2001) and ‘Credo’ (2011).
Family & Personal Life
Joanne Catherall and Phil Oakey were rumored to be in a relationship in the 1980s. Rumors also claimed that they were married. However, it was later revealed that they had been dating but had split up in 1990. They continued being friends and bandmates.
Joanne married a man named Peter in 1995. They had a son named Elliot.