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Amy Winehouse obituary Viewed 157,310 timesBy: Drew Rand
Published for New York, New York (Area-Info.net Sep. 05, 2011)
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 23 July 2011
Singer with a soul-steeped voice whose instantly successful Back to Black album reflected her tormented experience of love
Amy Winehouse sang as if her heart were damaged beyond repair.
Leading a rock'n'roll life has proved fatal to many artists, but few could be considered as much of a loss to music as Amy Winehouse, who has been found dead at the age of 27, the cause not immediately clear. One of the outstanding singers of her generation, she had suffered from drug addiction, and the destruction it causes. Her husky, soul-steeped voice belied both her youth and her London origins – singing from the gut is not the exclusive preserve of older black American performers.
Winehouse's music spoke to people so persuasively that her second album, Back to Black, became Britain's bestselling record of 2007 and reached No 2 in the US, making her one of only a few British female soloists to achieve that level of transatlantic recognition. Its success spurred sales of her initially overlooked first album, Frank (2003), so titled because of the diary-style lyrics that produced songs such as Stronger Than Me, which railed against a "ladyboy" ex-boyfriend. The two sold a total of more than 12m copies worldwide.
Born to a Jewish family in North Finchley, north London, Winehouse grew up listening to the jazz albums of her taxi-driver father, Mitch. He and her pharmacist mother, Janis, later divorced.
Amy caught the performing bug so early that by the age of eight she was attending stage school. She spent time at three of them, including the Sylvia Young theatre school in central London, from which she was expelled for "not applying herself", and the Brit school in Croydon, south London. Rebellious instincts surfaced in her mid-teens: by 16, she had acquired her first tattoo and was smoking cannabis. "My parents pretty much realised that I would do whatever I wanted, and that was it, really," she said later.
Her boyfriend of the time passed a cassette of her singing to a record company, which was impressed. "It was unlike anything that had ever come through my radar," said songwriter Felix Howard, who went on to collaborate with Winehouse on Frank. She signed a deal with the world's largest label, Universal, and was taken on by the management company run by Simon Fuller, the force behind Pop Idol and its television spin-offs. However, being in the bosom of the pop establishment turned Winehouse surly and defensive.
If Winehouse was not entirely singular – Dusty Springfield and Maggie Bell preceded her as white British pop singers whose complicated personal lives yielded unguarded, richly soulful music – she certainly stood out from almost every other artist under 40. When Frank was released, just after her 20th birthday, the prevailing female pop sound was the manicured slickness epitomised by Girls Aloud. Winehouse's disconcerting sultriness meant she was initially classified as a jazz vocalist. Despite being tipped by critics as a "buzz" act – borne out by two Brits nominations in 2004 – she did not catch the public's fancy, and Frank peaked at No 13 in the charts.
It was when she finished promoting the album and set about writing the follow-up that a remarkable transformation took place. During this time she met her future husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who worked on the periphery of the music business as an assistant on video shoots. The attraction was apparently instant, at least on Winehouse's part, and when Fielder-Civil ended the relationship after a few months, she poured her depression into songs that would become Back to Black.
Typically forthright, she drew attention to the latter in Back to Black's first single, Rehab, which became her signature song: "I don't never want to drink again, I just need a friend ... They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no." Despite its subject, the song was infectiously upbeat, and became her first top 10 hit, remaining in the charts for a near-record-breaking 57 weeks.
The whole album was also an instant, and huge, success. The jazz-lite that characterised Frank had been supplanted by sparky R&B, immediately hummable songs and, crucially, the performance of a lifetime from Winehouse, who sang as if her heart were damaged beyond repair. Critical acclaim was heaped on it – "One of the great breakthrough CDs of our time … when this lady sings about love, she means every word," said the US magazine Entertainment Weekly – and it appeared on numerous best-of-the-year lists. Its appeal transcended language barriers, sending it to No 1 in 18 countries, including the UK.
A great imponderable was whether Back to Black would have connected so strongly with listeners if Winehouse had not simultaneously been playing out her emotional dramas in public. Still wracked by the failure of her relationship with Fielder-Civil, her behaviour was erratic: her weight dropped further and the monstrous beehive got even taller. She seemed to lack the inhibitions that stop most people from "acting out" in public, which made her a tabloid dream. Drawn by the scent of disturbed celebrity, paparazzi were soon following her around the streets of north London.
Perversely, as her life became more complex, her success increased. She won the 2007 Brit award for best female artist, and Ivor Novello awards for Rehab and Love Is a Losing Game. In addition, she picked up Q magazine's best album trophy, and was nominated for that year's Mercury prize.
She unexpectedly reunited with Fielder-Civil in early 2007, and in May they married on impulse in Miami. The couple were frequently photographed looking much the worse for wear, and Winehouse's arms bore the marks of self-inflicted cuts. She collapsed from an overdose in the summer, and paid the first of several unsuccessful visits to rehab.
Her final public appearance came three days before her death, at a gig by Bromfield at the Roundhouse, Camden. Winehouse danced in dreamy circles, then disappeared without singing a note.
Last March she made her final recording, the pop standard Body and Soul with Tony Bennett, to be released on his album Duets II in September. Bennett remembered her as "an extraordinary musician with a rare intuition as a vocalist". During the chaotic last years of her life, she was frequently compared to other singers with tempestuous existences, such as Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf.
She is survived by her parents and her brother, Alex.
• Amy Jade Winehouse, pop singer-songwriter, born 14 September 1983; died 23 July 2011
• This article was amended on 27 July 2011. The original referred to "fellow junkie Pete Doherty". Junkie has been replaced by addict.
Rand is a businessman, writer, health and social issues blogger, and a business consultant. Rand is an independent instructor with Finance101 Inc. , Supplyline.org and The School-of-Hardknocks.com. Rand has also worked as a consulting COO for many small businesses helping owners understand the concepts and methods behind the "E-Myth" school of thought. Rand has done extensive research on business systems including direct sales, franchise, coaching systems and others.
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