Soul Songstress Amy Winehouse Passes Away, Aged 27
On July 23, a new artist joined the ranks of other greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain in the “27 Club.” British soul singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse passed away at the age of 27, leaving behind a distraught family, millions of fans, and two bestselling albums.
Born on September 14, 1983 in London, the singer began singing in her childhood and wrote her first song at 13. In the years that followed, Winehouse developed her talent further. In 2002, she signed on with her first music label, 19 Management. Her debut single “Stronger Than Me,” from her 2003 debut album “Frank,” did not fare well on the charts. The album as a whole, though, seemed more auspicious. She received great accolades for Frank, including a 2004 nomination for the Mercury Prize.
The height of Winehouse’s career, however, came with the 2006 release of her follow-up album Back to Black. In the few years between albums, her musical style shifted from contemporary jazz to a hip-hop infused ’60s girl-group vibe. At the same time, the troubled singer transformed her persona from a sassy siren of jazz to a bee-hived diva plastered with tattoos. The media started paying more attention. When she won five Grammys in 2007, the young singer demonstrated to a much broader international audience that her star was on the rise.
“Rehab,” Winehouse’s playfully defiant refusal to seek treatment for alcoholism, was by far the singer’s most popular song. The track exemplifies a theme of brash rebellion in her work. In “Stronger Than Me” she insisted to her ex-boyfriend, “you should be stronger than me … don’t you know you’re supposed to be the man?” Likewise, in “Me and Mr. Jones,” from her second album, Winehouse repeated, “Nobody stands in between me and my man! / What kind of fuckery is this?”
Many of her other songs, though, spoke more to her heartbreak than to her non-conformism. Given that both her albums were written in part as responses to dysfunctional relationships, both “Frank” and “Back to Black” gave her fans a taste of her inner sense of loss and her broken-hearted attempts to figure out where things went wrong. In one of her most vulnerable moments, Winehouse woefully concedes that “love is a fate resigned / Over futile odds, and laughed at by the gods / And now the final frame: / Love is a losing game.” For all the tough “No! No! No!”s of “Rehab,” there’s no denying that Winehouse had a softer side as well. Her experiences and her skillful songwriting created a perfect storm of music that dealt with love, loss, and frustration.
Despite issues with self-mutilation and a destructive taste for alcohol and narcotics, Winehouse managed for a few years to give sold-out concerts across the planet. Her dark and sultry voice, her unique synthesis of styles, and her perhaps deceptive charisma left millions wanting to hear more. In the wake of her passing from what many reports now suggest was alcohol withdrawal, the end of Winehouse’s career appears as tragic as many of her songs. In an ironic twist of fate, the singer lost her life trying to battle the very same demons that had popularized her life’s work. Winehouse leaves many wondering what could have become of her unfinished third album.
—Staff writer Susan J.G. Reed can be reached at email@example.com.