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Amy Winehouse

 “I wish I could say ‘no regrets’ and no emotional debts, and as we kiss good-bye the sun sets. So we are history, the shadow covers me, the sky above a blaze that only lovers see… My tears dry on their own.”

Amy Winehouse 1983 - 2011

I can't believe that it’s 7 years since Amy died...where does the time go? 

She was born Amy Jade Winehouse, on September 14, 1983, in Enfield, London, England to a Jewish family with Russian ancestry on her mother's side. Her father, Mitchell Winehouse, was a taxi driver; her mother, Janis Winehouse (nee Seaton), was a pharmacist. Her family shared her love of theater and music. Amy was brought up on jazz music.

Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27, on 23 July 2011, in her London home following a long-running battle with alcohol addiction. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were laid to rest in Edgwarebury Jewish Cemetery in London, United Kingdom. Her death caused considerable mourning worldwide.

She formed a Salt-n-Pepa style rap duo called Sweet ‘n Sour with her best friend when she was 10, but mostly dreamt of being a roller-skating waitress or a stage actor. She attended the Sylvia Young Theater School and the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology and a few others, but kept getting in trouble and eventually, around 15, Winehouse dropped out. Her brother taught her to play guitar, and she started writing her own songs and performing them at local jazz clubs. A friend helped her get into a studio to record demos, and by 2002, she had signed a publishing deal with EMI, a management deal with Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment and a label deal with Island UK.

At age 14, she was expelled from the Sylvia Young Theatre School in Marylebone,  London. At that time she pierced her nose and tattooed her body. She briefly attended the BRIT School in Croydon, and began her professional career at 16, performing occasional club gigs and recording low cost demos. At age 19, she recorded her debut, Frank (2003), a jazz-tinged album that became a hit and earned her several award nominations. During the next several years, she survived a period of personal upheaval, a painful relationship, and struggles with substance abuse. Her 2006's album 'Back on Black' was an international hit, and 'Rehab' made No. 9 on the US pop charts.

Back in Black was released in the U.S. in March of 2007, by which time Winehouse was racking up accolades from critics and her fellow artists. Prince started covering one of Frank‘s songs, and hip-hop royalty from Jay-Z (who dropped a verse on a “Rehab” remix) and Ghostface Killah (who redid “You Know I’m No Good” for his album More Fish) to Snoop Dogg sang her praises.

Winehouse recorded her first album, 2003’s jazz- and hip-hop-inflected Frank, with producer Salaam Remi (Nas, Fugees, Jurassic 5). The LP earned her critical raves at home, where she initially ranked with Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua as the most promising U.K. jazz neophytes. The album went platinum in England, earned her a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize and won her the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting, but was never released in the U.S.

She said in 2007 that she thought her transition from her early jazz sound to the Sixties R&B of Back To Black tracked with her transition from being a stoner to being a boozer. “I used to smoke a lot of weed,” she said. “I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other. The whole weed mentality is very hip-hop, and when I made my first record, all I was listening to was hip-hop and jazz. The weed mentality is very defensive, very much like, ‘Fuck you, you don’t know me.’ Whereas the drinking mentality is very ‘Woe is me, oh, I love you, I’m gonna lie in the road for you, I don’t even care if you never even look my way, I’m always gonna love you.'”

Though she reteamed with Remi for a portion of Back To Black‘s tracks, the stroke of genius was pairing her with producer Mark Ronson, who had built on his reputation as a DJ to amass production credits for Lily Allen, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Christina Aguilera.  Ronson recruited eight-man Brooklyn funk and soul band the Daptones to back the singer on tracks such as “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab,” imparting an authentic retro-cool vibe perfectly suited to Winehouse’s aesthetic. “Amy is bringing a rebellious rock & roll spirit back to popular music,” Ronson told me in 2007. “Those groups from the Sixties like the Shangri-Las had that kind of attitude: young girls from Queens in motorcycle jackets. Amy looks fucking cool, and she’s brutally honest in her songs. It’s been so long since anybody in the pop world has come out and admitted their flaws, because everyone’s trying so hard to project perfection. But Amy will say, like, ‘Yeah, I got drunk and fell down. So what?’ She’s not into self-infatuation and she doesn’t chase fame. She’s lucky that she’s that good, because she doesn’t have to.”

Upon learning of Winehouse’s death, Ronson expressed heartbroken shock, tweeting, “‘She was my musical soulmate and like a sister to me. This is one of the saddest days of my life.'”

In 2005, she began dating her future ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. The pair would hang around their local Camden bar, playing pool, drinking and picking out classic girl group and Motown tunes on the jukebox. And by the time Back to Black came out in America, she was consumed by her intense and dysfunctional relationship with Fielder-Civil. Playing gigs was secondary to spending time fussing over her “baby,” and she told me she was really more interested in starting her life as a wife and mother. The pair even snuck off to get married in May of 2007, on the same day Rolling Stone was with her in Miami reporting her cover story. A little more than a year later, in July 2008, Fielder-Civil was sentenced to 27 months in jail after he was found guilty of assault and attempted bribery. Devastated at being separated from her husband, Winehouse’s condition worsened. She briefly went to rehab in early 2008 after U.K. tabloid The Sun published a video of her smoking crack, but subsequently told Rolling Stone‘s Claire Hoffman that she did drugs while at the rehab facility.

Her big break came in 2008. Amy Winehouse became the first British female to win five Grammy Awards on the same night, February 10th, 2008, including Best New Artist and Record of the Year for 'Rehab'. Her Grammy performance was broadcast from London via satellite, because she was unable to appear in person in Los Angeles due to temporary problems with her traveling visa. Following her success at the Grammy Awards, Winehouse gave a string of highly successful performances during the year 2008. In June, she was suddenly hospitalized with a serious lung condition. However, she left hospital for one evening to perform for Nelson Mandela on his 90th birthday celebration in London's Hyde Park. She sang her hits Rehab and Valerie, drawing cheers and applause from the crowds and a smile from Mandela. Winehouse also performed for Roman Abramovich's party in Moscow; there she earned $2 million for her one-hour gig.

That year, though Winehouse won five Grammys, the focus began to shift from anticipating her next album to anticipating her next public meltdown. She got in trouble with the police for drug possession and assault, and was often photographed looking seriously unwell. Friends like Courtney Love periodically tried to help her, to little avail.

In early 2009, Winehouse filed for divorce from Fielder-Civil, who was still incarcerated. She retreated to St. Lucia, where she reportedly kicked hard narcotics. Though she attended treatment again in June of that year, Winehouse’s father said that, this time, it was for heavy drinking rather than drugs. Last fall she told Glamour magazine that she’d been off drugs for three years. “I literally woke up one day and was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,” she said.

She joined Tony Bennett at Abbey Road studios to record the Thirties jazz standard “Body And Soul” for Bennett’s upcoming Duets II album. “She was an extraordinary musician with a rare intuition as a vocalist and I am truly devastated that her exceptional talent and has come to such an early end,” Bennett said in a statement following her death. “She was a lovely and intelligent person and when we recorded together she gave a soulful and extraordinary performance.”

As she planned for a 12-date European tour this spring, however, the singer checked herself into the Priory Clinic in London for a “rehab assessment,” reportedly at her father’s request. She left the clinic just a week later, with her doctors saying they would allow Winehouse to complete the rest of her treatment as an outpatient so that she could go on the road. Her representative released a statement saying that Winehouse was “now looking forward to playing shows around Europe this summer and is raring to go.”

The first show on that tour, a gig at Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, Serbia on June 18th, was nothing short of a disaster. Before an audience of 20,000, a visibly inebriated Winehouse fumbled her lyrics, missed cues, and occasionally stopped singing entirely while her backing vocalists carried on. When the crowd began booing, she threw her shoe at them. On June 20th, after damning footage of the performance went viral, Winehouse’s spokesperson announced that the singer was “withdrawing from all scheduled performances,” canceling the 11 remaining dates and saying: “Everyone involved wishes to do everything they can to help her return to her best and she will be given as long as it takes for this to happen.”

Her final public appearance came just a few days before her death, when Winehouse showed up onstage during Bromfield’s gig at the London Roundhouse, dancing nearby while Bromfield sang the Shirelles’ “Mama Said.”

As authorities carried Winehouse’s body from her Camden home on Saturday, fans were already congregating in the nearby town square to console each other. A couple hundred mourners piled notes, flowers, candles, paintings and even stray cigarettes and bottles of wine and vodka onto a makeshift shrine. Later, the devoted headed to the Hawley Arms, Winehouse’s favorite watering hole, where one fan said she recently saw Winehouse hanging out behind the bar pouring pints. Whether or not Winehouse’s autopsy shows that her death was drug- or alcohol-related, her premature death is nothing short of a tragic loss to the music world. And so, in a sad footnote to an already tragic story, Winehouse now joins the ranks of the so-called 27 Club — a group of iconic musicians who died at that age including Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain.

But Winehouse’s own words are perhaps her most fitting epigraph: “I wish I could say ‘no regrets’ and no emotional debts, and as we kiss good-bye the sun sets. So we are history, the shadow covers me, the sky above a blaze that only lovers see… My tears dry on their own.”  


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