Amy Winehouse

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Troubled singer who revitalized the British music scene and paved the way for others dies.

by Jennie Wood
Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse in June 2007
Photo Credit: Rama

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Amy Winehouse warned us from the get-go. Whether famously refusing to go to rehab with the chorus of "no-no-no," or reminding the listener: "I told you, I was trouble. You know that I'm no good." She was here on her own terms. She created music on her own terms. In later years, her bad behavior and very public battle with alcohol and drug abuse became what she was known for, at least in part because that's what the media chose to focus on. Even in her death, on July 23, 2011, the media continued to highlight her battle with abuse and how she was now part of the "27 club"—passing away at the same age as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain. However, it's worth remembering why the singer became internationally beloved to music fans and critics alike and how she sparked a musical rebirth in Britain.

The Little White Jewish Salt-N-Pepa

Amy Jade Winehouse was born in London on Sept. 14, 1983. Her mother, Janis, was a pharmacist and father, Mitch, was a cab driver who had a serious love affair with music. As a child, Amy had a fondness for her father's Frank Sinatra records, but she was also drawn to hip-hop. At age 10, she formed a rap group with a friend. The group was called Sweet'n'Sour, which Winehouse famously described as "the little white Jewish Salt-N-Pepa," adding that she was the "sour" half of the duo. She went on to attend the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Lily Allen and Adele also attended the school. In 2003, she released Frank, her first record. The record's jazz stylings established Winehouse, just 19 at the time, as an artist to watch in Britain.

In 2006, Winehouse released Back to Black in the UK. With its fusion of classic Motown, hip-hop beats, and infectious horns, the record was loved equally by critics and the public. It also revitalized a tired British music scene, which had been worn down by the Spice Girls, boy bands, and feuding Oasis brothers. Released in 2007 in the U.S., Back to Black went on to win five Grammys, the most ever by a British female. As she toured throughout 2007, Winehouse became famous for her old-school beehive hairstyle, Cleopatra make-up, and defiant dancing-to-her-own-beat stage moves. However, by the end of 2007, she had become notorious for cancelling shows, getting arrested, and drug binges.

A Trailblazer for Other Female Artists

While Winehouse fought her demons and the tabloids reported every battle, other female artists with a similar style followed her musical path. Lily Allen came first, on the heels of Winehouse, then Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy. Lady Gaga has publicly acknowledged that Winehouse's success paved the way for her own rise in the industry. No one, though, has carried the Winehouse torch more directly and deservedly than R&B singer-songwriter, Adele. Like Winehouse, Adele has gained a wide following in the U.S., not an easy feat for musicians born on foreign soil. British singer-songwriter Lisa Stansfield won awards, fans, and rave reviews in many other parts of the world, but she quickly faded in the U.S. after her first single, "All Around the World." Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue, huge just about everywhere else, can't break through in the states. Winehouse managed to do what none of these artists could-make lasting waves on both sides of the Atlantic. In the process, she sold five million records and made radio stations and record labels take notice of a new generation of female artists.

Immediately following news of Winehouse's death, fans, friends, and celebrities went online with a chorus of tweets and status updates that the news was sad, but not surprising. How could anyone be surprised? While the media reported her every arrest or binge, the biggest signs of how this story would end were in her music. In the song "Some Unholy War", she sang: "But who you dying for? I would have died, too. I'd like to." In Back to Black's title track, she sang: "And I tread a troubled track, my odds are stacked... I'll go back to black." Long after the tabloids have nothing left to write about, Amy Winehouse's music—familiar sounds fused together into something entirely new—will live on.

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