Amy Winehouse: Genius Singer Who Couldn't Handle Fame Or Her Fight With Demons
We bring you a profile of the British singer and songwriter.
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On July 23, 2011, Amy Winehouse died. The life of the British jazz, soul rhythm'n'blues singer and songwriter ended when she was only twenty-seven years old. She thus became part of Club 27, as fans refer to a group of musicians whose lives ended prematurely at this age. Like other members of this group, Amy Winehouse's life was marked by alcohol and drugs. But she entered the history of music in golden letters and became a world star behind the hits Back to Black, Rehab, Valerie and You Know I'm No Good.
She was a rebel since childhood
The life story of one of the most talented artists began to be written on September 14, 1983 in London, where she was born into a Jewish family as Amy Jade Winehouse. Father Mitch worked as a taxi driver, mother Janis as a pharmacist. Mitch admitted in the TV documentary Amy that he had been unfaithful to his wife several times, but they divorced when their daughter was nine. Amy was always a troubled child, but she herself recalled that after her parents' divorce, she became a true rebel.
I was a shy girl until I was nine years old. When my parents divorced, I picked up the pace. I thought to myself: I'll wear whatever I want, I'll talk like a bricklayer, I'll use make-up, it'll be great. I had tattoos, piercings everywhere, I went to school, I found a boyfriend. (Documentary Amy, 2015)
Because her mother was too permissive in her upbringing after the divorce, Amy had problems in adolescence. At the age of thirteen, she started taking antidepressants and attending therapy, later she was kicked out of a prestigious theatre school.
Pop didn't impress her, she broke through thanks to a former classmate
Thanks to her family, she was surrounded by music from childhood. She had it in her blood, her relatives on her mother's side were musicians. She started playing the guitar at the age of thirteen, and soon composed her own songs. The direction that influenced her was jazz. "I just liked it. Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett. I learned singing from Monk and jazz soloists, pop singers didn't impress me," she recalled.
From the age of sixteen she performed with a small jazz band and other local groups. She enjoyed singing at the time, but didn't think she could make a living at it. She credits singer and former classmate Tyler James for turning her singing into a professional career. He allowed her to record a demo, which he then sent out. Finally, the music publishing house Island Records showed an interest in signing a contract with the young artist.
She skyrocketed. Her debut album was released in 2003. She named it Frank after one of her idols, the jazz singer Frank Sinatra. The album was a mixture of jazz, soul and hip-hop. It earned positive reviews and several nominations at the BRIT Awards. Amy turned one of them into victory, the Best Song category for Stronger Than Me. Music critics compared Amy to the legends she herself looked up to from the beginning - Macy Gray, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington or Billie Holiday.
Winehouse was also praised as a lyricist. She wrote the words for her songs entirely herself. "I only write about what concerns me. I can only authentically present what I have learned. It gets personal until it hurts, but I don't let it sit. I put a meaning into every song. I just want my lyrics to be fresh," she explained at the time.
The commercial success of the album Back to Black and the song Rehab
Debut album Frank was a success, but 2006's Back to Black took Amy Winehouse even further. And specifically towards five Grammy awards, among others for best pop album, record of the year and discovery of the year. She received a platinum record for the album. Back to Black was the best-selling album in the world in 2007, selling more than five and a half million copies.
The song Rehab was a big part of the album's success. Rolling Stone magazine named it the seventh best song of the year and also ranked it 194th on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. For Rehab, Winehouse also received the Ivor Novello Award for Music Composers and Songwriters and numerous other awards.
This song is heavily autobiographical. In it, Winehouse sings about refusing treatment for alcohol and drug use. The presentation of the Grammy Awards for the song Rehab was all the more curious because Winehouse could not attend it. The reason was that she didn't get a visa due to carrying drugs.
They tried to make me go to Rehab
But I said no, no, no
Yes I've been black, but when I come back
You'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time
And if my daddy thinks I'm fine
They tried to make me go to Rehab
But I won't go, go, go
Fatal Blake Fielder-Civil
If Amy Winehouse had problems as soon as her teens, they only got worse with the fame she achieved in the new millennium. After the release of her first album Frank, she started to get more attention from the media. The fact that she loves addictive substances, especially alcohol, did not escape their attention. In addition, she lived with depression and eating disorder. But she devoted herself to her work to the maximum, and the result was the album Back to Black. At the time of its release, however, she met a man, because of whom the biggest problems were yet to come.
His name was Blake Fielder-Civil and it was he, who led Amy Winehouse to hard drugs such as heroin, crack or cocaine. He was a drug addict himself and dragged Amy into addiction as well. Their relationship was very tumultuous, physical violence was not rare, and both of them sometimes ended up with bruises or bloody scars. They broke up a few times and then got back together. They got married in 2007.
I really try not to drink, but I'm a pretty self-destructive person. (A. Winehouse, 2006)
Since then, the singer began to behave even more erratically. That same year, the couple was arrested in Norway for possession of marijuana. In 2008, for a change, Amy was arrested in her native London, where she allegedly assaulted a man outside a bar. Although she divorced Fielder-Civil in 2009, and although she claimed to have stopped using hard drugs, she did not get rid of her alcohol addiction.
A failed comeback and a shocking death
Increasingly frequent alcohol excesses negatively affected her artistic career. She canceled a number of performances, citing health problems as the official reason. For a change, she appeared at some concerts in such a worn-out state that fans booed her.
She tried to make a comeback in 2011, unsuccessfully. In June, she performed in Belgrade, Serbia. She came to the stage an hour late, heavily intoxicated. Although the concert took place, Winehouse refused to sing, and when she did, the singing was more like mumbling. She canceled upcoming concerts after this incident. The problems she claimed were behind her, turned out to be escalating.
I don't think I'll be famous one day. If I was, I probably wouldn't be able to handle it. I think I would go crazy. (A. Winehouse)
News of her death hit the world on July 23, 2011. On that day, her bodyguard found her dead in her home in London. It took several months before they clarified the cause of her death. The cause was ultimately revealed to be alcohol poisoning. Winehouse had 416 mg per deciliter, or 4.16 per thousand, in her blood. According to The Guardian newspaper, especially towards the end of her life, she wandered in a dangerous circle - she did not drink for several weeks, and then there was a period in which she did nothing else but drink. In addition, she still struggled with bulimia and was taking medication for anxiety.
Amy Winehouse died at the age of twenty-seven. She thus joined Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. Like these artists and co-members of Club 27, she left a number of unforgettable songs for her fans and the entire music world.
Her legacy is also carried forth by the Amy Winehouse Foundation. In the year of the talented singer's death, her family set up this foundation to support people with substance addiction.
In 2015, the fate of Amy Winehouse was commemorated in the award-winning documentary Amy. A feature film is also currently in the works. For now, it has the working title Back to Black. Who will portray the legendary singer in this film it is not yet clear, but according to her father. “We want someone to portray Amy as she really was. Cheerful, brilliant, charming, but also a terrible person," he stated.
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