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Amy Winehouse

“Every bad situation is a blues song waiting to happen.” – Amy Winehouse

Amy Jade Winehouse was born to Jewish parents, a window panel installer called Mitchell Winehouse and a pharmacist called Janis on 14 September 1983 at Chase Farm Hospital in North London. She lived with her parents and her older brother Alex in the Southgate area of London where she also attended the Osidge Primary School and Jewish Sunday School although she was never overtly religious and only attended synagogue once per year on Yom Kippur out of respect. 

Amy Winehouse grew up surrounded by music, especially jazz with many of her uncles being jazz musicians on her mother’s side of the family and her father’s mother being a singer who once dated the jazz saxophonist, Ronnie Scott.

Amy’s mother and father encouraged her interest in jazz even though they split up when she was about 9 years old with her living with her mother and staying with her father at weekends.

In 1992, encouraged by her grandmother, Amy attended the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School where not only did she develop her vocal capabilities, but she also learned to tap dance. During that time, she got her first taste of performing in a group when she formed a rap group called Sweet ‘n’ Sour with a friend. This was short-lived though and soon afterwards she enrolled full-time at the Sylvia Young Theatre School before moving on to the Mount School and then the BRIT school in Croydon.

At about the age of 15, around the time she changed schools, Amy bought herself a guitar and started to write songs. She also sang with a local group called the Bolsha Band and earned a living as an entertainment journalist.

After becoming the featured female vocalist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2000, a friend of Amy’s, the soul singer, Tyler James sent her demo tape to an Artists and Repertoire (A&R) person, following which Amy signed to 19 Management, which was owned by Simon Fuller, where she was paid £250 per week.

Soon afterwards, Amy Winehouse was signed to Island Records and her first album called Frank was released on 20 October 2003. All of the songs on the album were influenced by Jazz apart from two covers and were co-written by Amy with production being handled by Salaam Remi. Frank was a critical success and was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize in 2004 and Amy was nominated in the British Female Solo Artist category at the Brit Awards that year. Later in 2004 her single Stronger Than Me won Best Contemporary Song at the Ivor Novello Awards. In the same year, Amy also performed at several festivals including Glastonbury.

Amy’s second album represented a change in direction in that it was not influenced by jazz but rather by the girl groups of the 1950s and 60s. Called Back to Black, it was produced by Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi with Ronson playing demo tracks You Know I’m No Good and Rehab on his East Village Radio show in New York.  Back to Black was released on 30 October 2006 and made it to number one in the UK charts, staying in that position for two weeks in January 2007 before dropping and then climbing back up again in February, becoming the best-selling album in the UK that year. Several singles were released off the album, the first of which was the Mark Ronson-produced Rehab with Time Magazine naming it the best song of 2007.

As well as the album, Amy Winehouse also collaborated with other artists on singles. Probably the best known of these collaborations is the song Valerie, which was a Mark Ronson track from his album Version and for which Amy provided the vocal.

She made several live appearances to promote Back to Black in 2006 including a captivating performance with Paul Weller on Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny where they performed a cover of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine.

Amy appeared at several festivals through 2007, but the first indications that something wasn’t quite right became apparent later that year. For example, in November of 2007, she was booed by the audience on the opening night of a 17-date tour with a critic for the Birmingham Mail observing that Amy was seen stumbling around the stage and swearing at the audience. Similarly, fans who attended her concert at the Hammersmith Apollo commented that she appeared intoxicated throughout. On 27 November, Amy announced that on doctor’s advice, the rest of the dates that year were cancelled. Her album though stayed at the top of the charts during the first part of 2008.

At the Grammy Awards on 10 February 2008, Amy Winehouse won five awards, including for Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year, the first UK female solo artist ever to receive five Grammy awards on the same night. The Grammy Awards resulted in increased sales for Back to Black enabling it to reach number 2 on the US Billboard Top 200. She also performed Valerie with Mark Ronson at the 2008 Brit Awards Ceremony at Earls Court in London. By 12 March, Back to Black had sold almost 2.5 million copies and went on to become the 7th biggest-selling album of the year.

In May 2008 Amy became the first-ever artist to be nominated for the top award at the Ivor Novello Awards for two songs with the nominations being for Love is a Losing Game and You Know I’m No Good. Love is a Losing Game was the winner.

According to an article in The Times newspaper, Universal Music was pressing Amy to produce new material during 2008, but it was revealed that as of September 2009, she hadn’t recorded anything. She had however made several personal appearances, such as at a jazz festival in Saint Lucia in May during which it was noticed that she was stumbling around the stage and had problems remembering some of the lyrics. She ended her set in the middle of a song. However, On 23 August 2009, she performed to cheering crowds at the V festival.

A new album was mooted by Island Records to be on the cards for 2010 with Amy herself stating that it would be ready no later than January 2011 and that it would be similar in style to her second album. However, Mark Ronson stated that nothing had yet been recorded.

When January 2011 came around there was no sign of a new album. She played five dates in Brazil that month but was booed off stage following a performance in Dubai in February. In June she started a 12-leg tour of Europe which kicked off in Belgrade but local media reported that her performance was a disaster as she was too drunk to perform and she was ultimately booed off the stage. She pulled out of performances in Istanbul and Athens the following week and ultimately cancelled the remainder of the tour.

Amy Winehouse’s final public appearance was at the Roundhouse in Camden on 20 July 2011 where she surprised her goddaughter when she joined her on stage as she was performing Mama Said.

Amy had been battling, sometimes quite publicly with alcohol and substance abuse and had sought treatment on a number of occasions, but on the afternoon of 23 July 2011, her bodyguard found her unresponsive on her bed and called an ambulance. Amy Winehouse was pronounced dead at the scene and the police took bottles of vodka into evidence. The coroner’s inquest reached a verdict of misadventure and the report indicated that she had died of alcohol poisoning. She was 27 years old.

After her death, Amy Winehouse set a new Guinness World Record for the most songs by a woman to appear in the UK singles chart at the same time with eight.

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