The 25-year-old’s entrancing voice and jazz-steeped songs made her the runaway winner, after votes were counted from 170 music critics and industry figures.
She joins the likes of Adele, Haim and Ellie Goulding, who have all topped the Sound Of… list in previous years.
Indie band Easy Life came second, while pop-punk firebrand Yungblud was third.
“I’m really, really happy,” Celeste said, after being told she’d won. “It’s like all of the work that went in throughout the [last] year wasn’t invisible.
“I can’t wait now to see what the rest of the year will look like. I’m so thrilled and so excited. I can’t wait.”
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Brighton, Celeste Waites started making music as a teenager, while working in pubs and charity shops to make ends meet.
She wrote her first song, Sirens, at the age of 17, in tribute to her Jamaican father, who had died of lung cancer a year earlier. The track was uploaded to YouTube, where it caught the attention of her manager – but success was still a long way off.
Three years ago, the singer moved to London with just £100 in her pocket; but was fired because she kept skipping work to write songs.
“I’d rather call in sick and go to the studio than have the money for that month,” she tells the BBC, “and there was a couple of months where I was like, ‘What am I going to do?'”
Luckily, unemployment coincided with Celeste’s discovery – first by Lily Allen’s label Bank Holiday Records, which released her first EP, and later by Polydor, who signed her in 2018.
Since then, she’s supported Janelle Monáe, Neneh Cherry and Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka on tour. Fellow soul singer Jorja Smith recently described Celeste as “incredible, stunning, everything”.
“Celeste is a phenomenal talent, a voice that does not come around often and when you are exposed to it, is impossible to ignore,” said Radio 1’s Annie Mac, who has supported the singer on her show.
“I have received countless emotional texts from listeners who have had to sit in their car and lose themselves to her song Strange before carrying on with their evening. Her songwriting is personal and poignant but with universal appeal.
Celeste’s victory in the BBC Sound Of 2020 follows similar accolades from the Brits, where she received the rising star award, and BBC Music Introducing, who named her their artist of the year – but she says awards have never been the goal.
“When I write music I never think about whether anybody wants to listen to it,” she explains. “I just keep pushing myself in all these different ways where eventually, hopefully, I’ve made something distinct that can be enjoyed by other people.”
Written by: Mark Savage
First published 09.01.20: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-51020113