“In my opinion, the most soulful vocalist this country has ever seen. And her album Back to Black was the best album I had heard since the seventies.”
“Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about British music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blasé about the whole thing. I don’t think she ever realized just how brilliant she was and how important she is, but that just makes her even more charming.”
“She was my musical soulmate & like a sister to me. this is one of the saddest days of my life.”
-Mick Ronson (Producer)
“Amy changed pop music forever, I remember knowing there was hope, and feeling not alone because of her. She lived jazz, she lived the blues.
“Of all the singers that I’ve ever heard – Amy was the best one.”
The Journey Began Early
She was a force of nature, a raven-haired throw-back, sporting a Ronnie Spector signature bee-hive hairdo, this genre-changing dynamo rebirthed a style of music that had been dormant for many years.
Soul music, R & B, whatever you want to label it, was given new legs by this British torch singer with a cockney accent, oodles of talent and the guts of a cat burglar. She was known simply as Amy, and she was a cultural hurricane that blew into our air space with audacious strength highlighted by her penetrating gaze and amazing voice. Amy Winehouse was Dinah Washington by way of Ronnie Spector crossed with Billie Holiday. In fact, she seemed to be a musical time traveller who emerged to captivate and entertain us all.
R & B Goddess
The 2015 film Amy, exquisitely directed by Asif Kapadia (“Senna”). chronicled her career through the use of documentary footage and interviews with her colleagues and intimates. It won an Academy Award for best documentary. Writes Susan Wloszczyna for rogerebert.com. “There she is in grainy home-video footage with her female chums with a smattering of adolescent acne on her fresh face, innocently sucking on a lollipop and throatily belting out the sing-song refrain of “Happy Birthday” as if she were possessed by the spirit of an ancient R&B diva. This is the Amy Winehouse few of us ever got to witness, radiating cheeky self-confidence, and finding joy in sharing her considerable gifts. The one who existed before the brutally invasive flash-flash-flash of the paparazzi’s omnipresent cameras eventually snuffed out the very flame that once burned so bright inside of her.”
I Told You I Was Troubled
As Tony Bennet says, “she was a truly great pop-jazz singer. She heard everything, she was influenced just by the right music. She had the ears to know just what to leave out and put in.”
While they were recording Body & Soul, in a special session,” Bennett said that Winehouse was a tad overwhelmed by the whole experience until he put her at ease. “She was very nervous to perform, but I said, ‘You know, it sounds like you’re influenced by Dinah Washington.’ And all of the sudden, her whole life changed,” he explained. “She said, ‘How did you know that Dinah Washington is my goddess?’ She did some Dinah Washington licks, and from that moment on, she just relaxed. And it came out wonderful. She was like, ‘Tony understands me, you know?’”
“Jazz is a wonderful art,” he continues. “Listening to it, I compare it to watching the greatest tennis player who’s so intelligent about where he places the ball, it becomes effortless. The great ones that are very talented know just how to turn jazz singing into a performance that’s unforgettable. And Amy had that gift. The fact that she died at 27 years old is just horrible to me. If she had lived, she would’ve been right up there with Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. It’s just a tragedy.”
Her Big Night
Amy, with her bodacious beehive and the best do-wop band around, the “Dap-Kings,” wins five Grammy’s on the evening of February 8, 2008. On that fateful night, she performed “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” live from a London soundstage during the Grammy Awards. Her situation was almost comical. She performed via video link from London after being refused a visa to enter the US for the awards ceremony. At the 11th hour, Amy Winehouse secured that elusive visa, but it was too late for the show, so Amy performed via video link to the Staples Centre in Los Angeles where the Grammy’s are held.
By the end of the 2008 Grammy Awards ceremony, Amy Winehouse had won five Grammys, including Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album for Back to Black, and Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance all for Rehab.
According to Jay Caspian Kang: “She brought her own Pips! However, those dance moves are taken straight from the Temptations, probably from some long-forgotten performance of “My Girl.” Right away, we’re in two eras at once. And isn’t it nice that we can have a white girl singing with three black back-up singers who are performing dance moves from the 1960s and the one thought that rises through all the silly chatter is, “Holy shit, she looks cool.” The flower in the hair, the black ruffled lace dress both set the bar high — if you’re going to come out dressed like punk Billie Holiday, you better measure up. At 4:11, this is the most important point of the performance, where she has to elevate what has been an admittedly flat past minute with theatrics, both vocal and dance-based. She starts with the parakeet strut, goes to the hand-on-hip-and-point move (but with the Satan salute instead of the point), before transitioning straight into the “push you up the hill” move. That’s going from two Diana Ross moves straight into an Aretha standard, but all of it done in a staggered, half-cocked way. Despite all these interruptions, it’s touching to watch a young woman realize that her life is probably not exactly what she thought her life had been.” As a program to that momentous night; The Circular Ruins by Jay Caspian Kang is a must-read.
A Bolt of Lightning I remember well the Back To Black CD coming in the mail and playing the disc. There was a sense of wonderment that you were hearing something truly extraordinary, not unlike the first time you heard the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and so on. You knew this was someone with loads of talent and the kind of confidence that comes along only so often. As I listened to the title track there was an emotional current that animated and left one feeling sad, but also triumphant: two emotions that are very difficult to evoke. That was her signature sound to me – sad, remorseful, yet uplifting in a manner that resonates to this day.
In closing, it would be easy to dismiss Amy Winehouse as yet another ill-fated member of the 27 Club, a musical star who shone too brightly then flamed out. However, I would submit, all the clues to her destructive behaviour were there from the start. It’s just that her agent overbooked her continuously, that’s where he made his money. He never gave this hot-house flower, this wisp of a woman with the soaring talent, time to get herself together and rest. Her rise and fall was swift, and a true tragedy. Amy is gone now, but never, ever to be forgotten.
No Amy Winehouse
No Lily Allen
No Billie Eilish
No Jonalle Monáe
No Ariana Grande