British Soul Singer Amy Winehouse, Dies at 27

Matt Dunham / AP

The so very troubled and talented Amy Winehouse is dead, at 27.

Amy Winehouse “found worldwide fame with a sassy, hip-hop-inflected take on retro soul, yet became a tabloid fixture as her problems with drugs and alcohol led to a strikingly public career collapse.” She was found dead today in her London apartment, the police said.

Although the cause of death is at this point “unknown,” the news of Winehouse’s death stunned me and made me feel a sense heartbreak that she had most likely lost her battle with drugs and alcohol.

With her “husky, tart voice and a style that drew equally from the sounds of Motown and the stark storytelling of rap, Ms. Winehouse became one of the most acclaimed young singers of the past decade, selling millions of albums, winning five Grammy Awards and starting a British retro-R&B trend that continues today.”

I didn’t want to like Winehouse’s music because the lurid details of her self-destructive, troubled life were such a turn-off. Yet, her talent could not be ignored. Her life was vividly portrayed in “Rehab” but with so much soul that you couldn’t help sing along and groove to the Motown-esque beat.

Born in Southgate, London on Sept. 14, 1983, Amy Jade Winehouse is survived by her mother, Janis, a pharmacist, and her father, Mitch, a cab driver “who nursed a love for music,” and her brother, Alex.

Ms. Winehouse showed an early talent for performing, as well as an eclecticism that would characterize her later work. She loved her father’s Sinatra records, but she also liked hip-hop; at age 10 she and a friend formed a rap group called Sweet ’n’ Sour that Ms. Winehouse later described as “the little white Jewish Salt-N-Pepa.” (Ms. Winehouse was the “sour” half.)

She attended the Sylvia Young Theater School in London and later went to the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, a free performing arts school there that counts several other recent female pop stars among its alumnae, including Ms. Allen and Adele, another young singer who is sometimes seen as picking up the neo-soul mantle from Ms. Winehouse.

In 2003, at age 19, Ms. Winehouse released her first album, “Frank.” Influenced by jazz, it established her as a rising star in Britain. But “Back to Black,” recorded with the producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, and the Brooklyn retro-soul band the Dap-Kings, made her an international sensation. With thick horns and club-ready hip-hop beats, the album was a darkly stylish update of classic 1960s R&B, and it was adored by critics and the public alike.

Nielsen SoundScan, a company that tracks music sales, reports that “Ms. Winehouse has sold 2.7 million albums and 3.4 million tracks in the United States.”

The true peak of Winehouse’s career was the 2008 Grammy Awards when she “was nominated for six prizes and took home five, including Best New Artist.”

Yet even days before the show, her appearance there was uncertain because of visa problems. In the end, she performed by satellite from London.

Although Ms. Winehouse has not made an album since “Back to Black,” she tried to revive her career several times. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Ms. Winehouse’s father, who released a jazz album this year, said she had been in good health lately. (Mr. Winehouse was scheduled to perform at the Blue Note jazz club in New York on Monday, but canceled after learning of his daughter’s death.)

Her most recent comeback attempt was a bust, as Winehouse canceled a European tour last month, “after a performance in Belgrade on the first night, during which she appeared to be too intoxicated to perform properly.”

Her death is a tragic loss to the world of soul music as Winehouse becomes another talented and troubled musician to pass away at 27.  Winehouse joins Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin as part of the 27 club.

R.I.P. Amy Winehouse…

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4 Responses to British Soul Singer Amy Winehouse, Dies at 27

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  2. Scott Nance says:

    This is such sad news. I was a huge fan. I was thinking just the other day how it had been several years since her last album and hoping for another.

    It’s so sad when such a talented person has such a sad life.

  3. Philanthropist says:

    While the death of any person at such a young age is a tragedy, Winehouse’s passing should not be romanticized. She did not die for her art, or for the sins of society. She died because she was an addict and was unable to or unwilling to graple with both the physical addiction and the personal issues that lead to her addictions. She had people around her who tried to help, and there were brief moments when it appeared that she was starting to get a handle on her issues, only to backslide again. The sad fact is that for many of us who enjoyed her music but were deeply disturbed by her behavior, a premature death was not so much an issue of “if” but “when”. How tragic is it that when you heard her name mentioned in the news, your first instinct was to wonder if she’d died.
    The fans who want to paint her as some kind of tragic heroine (no pun intended) do her legacy a great disservice. Her art should be admired, but her self-destructive nature that destroyed her art must also be regarded as a warning. If other young lives are saved because of Winehouse’s loss, then her life might indeed have a worthy legacy.

  4. I was very saddened. Having a few people dear to me lose their battle with addiction, it simply breaks my heart when I hear that someone else has lost thier battle, especially with the talent that Winehouse had.