A tribute is needed for the most iconic soulstress the UK ever had. This weekend, we remember Amy Winehouse on what would have been her 30th birthday.
In the twenty seven years that she was with us, English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse became an international icon who was talented and troubled in equal measures. Despite her premature death and personal struggles, she left behind a lasting impact on the music industry; with the BBC calling her the ‘pre-eminent vocal talent of her generation.’
Born in 1983 in North London, her parents influenced her passion for music from an early age. With professional jazz musicians on her mother’s side, and a father who encouraged her love for Frank Sinatra’s records, Amy enrolled in the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School when she was a mere nine years of age.Several stints at various academies like the Sylvia Young Theatre School, and the BRIT School fostered her vocal talent.
By her middle teens she was writing her own music, and soon working for a living as an entertainment journalist and singer. By the year 2000, she had become the featured female vocalist for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. The star-in-the-making was inspired by 1960’s soul girl groups like The Ronettes, and it has been said that her atypical pop-star aesthetic and sound was what led to record label giants like EMI, and Virgin clamouring to add Winehouse to their rosters. In the end Island/Universal won and on 20th October 2003, the release of her debut album, “Frank“, marked the start of her rise to fame.
Her first record went platinum, bringing in hordes of award nominations, including making the short list for the Mercury Music Prize. But this was nothing compared to what the bestselling record of 2007, “Back To Black” would bring.
Despite the media’s portrayal of her as all-partying, and commenting on her apparently unstable relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil; Amy’s ‘antics’ in her private life aided her in writing the album of her career. After her management endeavoured and failed to force the star into seeking help for issues with alcohol abuse, Winehouse wrote ‘Rehab’, which stormed the charts and won the singer an Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song. Success in the UK and abroad ensued; as Amy won a BRIT Award for Best Female Artist and sold 1 million copies of Back To Black in America. In the August after her death, the album became the best-selling album of the 21st Century in the United Kingdom.
In spite of inconsistent tours that were interrupted further by paparazzi issues, drug battles and divorce, the singer temporarily struggled through, sweeping up further Grammy awards in the process. She set up her own record label, Lioness Records, signing her talented goddaughter Dionne Bromfield. While the tabloid press were set on tearing the singer to pieces, there were music industry insiders who spoke out to defend the star. Lily Allen was quoted in one Scottish paper as describing Amy as “A very clever, intelligent, witty, funny person who can hold it together. You just don’t see that side…” [in the papers]. Whether the press’s caricature of Winehouse was true or not, the sad truth is that the star’s battle with drug addiction, excessive alcohol consumption and an eating disorder lead to her untimely and tragic death.
Despite her mainstream success, the artists who’ve been touched by her music paid tribute in droves; from M.I.A to Nicki Minaj and from Courtney Love to Green Day. Many singers have stated that Amy inspired their work and the path to stardom; for the likes of Adele, Emeli Sande and Paloma Faith, Winehouse paved the way.
In a remarkably short time, Winehouse won over twenty awards, marked a change for women in the UK music industry to be taken seriously, and reached out to others who’ve suffered. The little known fact of Amy’s extensive charity work goes to show how the media portrayed her in a light, which failed to show the generous nature of the young woman. She raised awareness of Breast Cancer and Climate Change through her music, donated over £20,000 worth of clothes to a local charity shop and once randomly paid for a man’s medical expenses. The St. Lucian, Julian Jean DeBaptiste had surgery in the July of 2009.”It cost a fortune and Amy paid for the whole thing. I tried to thank her but she just hugged me and told me not to say anything. Her generosity gave me my life back.”
For all of Amy’s hardship and suffering, there will be a person out there that she has helped. The revenue from her music sales were not frittered away, because despite the substance abuse and the issues, Winehouse took her own struggles and turned them into art for us to enjoy, and a means to helping those worse off than her.
Beyond the legion of soulful songstresses and the ubiquitous winged liner, there are people alive because of her help. If that’s not a legacy, then I don’t know what is.
Written by India Thomas