Birth Name: Amy Jade Winehouse
Birthplace: London, England
September 14, 1983 – July 23, 2011
Years Active: 1997 – 2011
Amy Winehouse recordings mix vintage tones of mid 20th century American popular music with a contemporary production aesthetic that features bold storytelling, all capped with the powerful voice of an incredibly talented young woman. Celebrated for her unabashed vocal performance and lyrical candor, Winehouse’s voice mines the lower register of the traditional female range, infusing her performances with characteristics that recall the crooners of a bygone era but with a brashness that celebrates an empowered spirit. Throughout her career, Winehouse was compared with jazz vocal legends Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan as well more current artists like Lauryn Hill and Macy Gray.
In her childhood home, Winehouse’s home stereo spun records by singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Frank Sinatra. She also had musicians in the family since numerous uncles on her maternal side were serious jazz musicians. As Winehouse moved into her teen years, her listening habits migrated towards American R&B and Hip Hop groups like TLC and Salt-N-Pepa.
Her big break in the music industry came when she was just sixteen years old. Winehouse passed along her demo tape to a friend who got it into the hands of an A&R representative at a record label. Eventually, she signed with Island Records and released her first album Frank in 2003 at the age of twenty. A critically acclaimed hit in the U.K., the album blended elements of Jazz, Pop, Hip Hop, and Soul, and was nominated for the coveted Mercury Music Prize in 2004. Frank received numerous accolades, including two Brit Awards nominations. The single “Stronger Than Me” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song.
Unfortunately, as Winehouse’s career was rising her personal life was beginning to descend. The substance abuse issues that would eventually contribute to her death began to escalate. After the release of Frank, Winehouse’s turbulent personal relationships and struggles with drug addiction were regularly documented and widely published by the British tabloids. To many, her difficult private life was exploited by the British press to sell magazines and get clicks on websites.
Although her domestic life was unstable and troubled, Winehouse followed-up Frank with Back to Black, an even more impressive album that would bring her widespread international success and have critics raving around the globe. Released in 2006, the album segued from the Jazz and Pop stylings of her previous LP and embraced the sounds of early Rock and Roll. An important and notable stylistic trait on the record was the “girl group” harmonies and production stylings devised by producer Phil Spector in the 1960s. The records was a smash.
The U.S. release of Back to Black charted higher than any British female artist debut album before it (her debut Frank hadn’t been released in the U.S. back in 2003). In 2007, she won the Brit Award for Best British Female Artist. Winehouse and the album would go on to win five Grammys in 2008, the most of any artist that year, and three of those were for Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. At that time, Winehouse tied the then-record for most wins by a female artist in a single night and was the first British woman to win five Grammys.
However, while the record was a huge success, Winehouse’s life spiraled even further downward. She eventually had to cancel her North American tour in support of the album due to ill health brought on by drug abuse. In the years following, Winehouse did sing with Tony Bennett and on a record celebrating the music of Quincy Jones, but those collaborations would be released posthumously. She didn’t record and release another problem and her public life mostly revolved around her domestic troubles and lingering addictions. Sadly, she died in her London apartment on July 23, 2011 and her death was attributed to alcohol poisoning.
Since Winehouse’s death a foundation has been created in her honor to provide resources and services for young people struggling with addictions. Numerous retrospectives containing unreleased recordings have been issued. A documentary film on her life, Amy, was released in 2015 with an accompanying soundtrack.