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Amy Winehouse

As controversial posthumously as she was in her all-too short life (seemed everyone wanted/wants a piece of her God-given talent), torch-ballad neo-soul singer AMY WINEHOUSE shall never rest in peace. For the plethora of positives her music and tattooed image projected, it was clear there was narcotic negatives, culminating with a death-wish aspect which spiralled out of control and on to her ultimate demise.
Take away the “mask-ara” she hid behind for her second album, Amy was the unassuming girl-next-door. With it all intact, her star appeal could no longer reject what comes with the territory: the drugs, the heavy drinking bouts and, in turn, the persistent paparazzi appeal that landed her into life’s gold-fish bowl, gasping for air, constantly pestered by the press to find news instead of letting her take her own time to add to her lonesome two-album CV.
Not since “the lady sings the blues” entertainer BILLIE HOLIDAY (or even JANIS JOPLIN) had the world witnessed a star shine so brightly, but then burn out to a media frenzy of guilt and shame. This lady had it all, and one’ll leave a film documentary (entitled “Amy”) to pick from its bones and find out who – if anyone – was to blame. If there was one song that became her inadvertent autobiographical signature tune, then I suppose it had to be `Rehab’, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at modern-day life as a budding starlet.
AMY WINEHOUSE was born to a taxi driver father (“Mitch”) and pharmacist mother (Janis) on 14 September 1983 in Enfield, in a borough of London; although raised in nearby Southgate. Surrounded by jazz from an early age (her uncles were musicians and her paternal grandmother (Cynthia) dated Brit-jazz pioneer RONNIE SCOTT), teenager Amy could draw sustenance from immortals ELLA FITZGERALD, SARAH VAUGHAN and DINAH WASHINGTON, and marry their kindred spirit with hip-hop/R&B stars of the day such as SALT-N-PEPA, TLC and LAURYN HILL.
The life and soul of any party or family get-together (she attended London’s Sylvia Young Theatre School aged at 14), luck came her way a few years on when budding pop star and best friend Tyler James sent on her demo to an A&R representative, Darcus Beese, who, in turn, passed it on to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management agency. Amy was now a blossoming starlet and, with regular appearances at the jazz-centric Cobden Club, in 2002, competition between EMI-Virgin (whom she’d signed a publishing deal) and Island Records hotted up to boiling point. The latter major label finally won out, and with producer/keyboardist/co-conspirator Salaam Remi, she entered the studio.
Groomed as an albums artist, 2003’s FRANK {*8} debut, had critics salivating over Amy’s cool and carefree jazz/R&B. Comparisons ranged from BILLIE HOLIDAY, LAURYN HILL, MACY GRAY, among others, but soon the voice of Amy resonated as a unique entity that no one at the time could match. Americans were not given the chance to assess the UK Top 20 record until 2007, but by then WINEHOUSE had turned another corner. There was a boisterous and boozy “live” late-night supper-club feel to this studio set, best served up on modest hits such as `Stronger Than Me’, `Take The Box’, double-header `In My Bed’ (b/w `You Sent Me Flying’) and the equally-formatted `F*** Me Pumps’ (twinned w/ `Help Yourself’). Nocturnal nostalgia on show, but uniquely, not a cover version in sight, Britain had found itself a true star; testament to this was a Mercury Music Prize nomination, a couple of Brit Awards and an Ivor Novello Award for `Stronger Than Me’. Jazz was now a word the day’s youth could use (and research into) as much as any seasoned aficionado or finger-clicking swinger.
The perils and pressures of a pop diva and the weight of the world on her young 20-something shoulders were apparent on her out-on-the-town exploits from then on in. Much more a kindred spirit of RONNIE SPECTOR and 60s girl-groups, not least in terms of her tattooed lady-of-the-blues image (jagged-eyelid mascara, beehive hairdo, ill-fitting grunge attire, to boot), the evocative Amy factor garnered as much column inches courtesy of the paparazzi as her music. For that difficult sophomore set, BACK TO BLACK {*9}, unleashed in October 2006, jazz was swept under the proverbial carpet for a retro blue-eyed soul. Previewed by the glorious but poignantly-titled `Rehab’ (a transatlantic Top 10 breaker), the chart-topping album slow-burned its way up the American charts to No.2. The sublime Ms. WINEHOUSE was embraced by everyone from (Later With…) JOOLS HOLLAND to a plethora of “rock” stars, including The ROLLING STONES. Augmented in places by co-producer MARK RONSON, the hit machine just rolled into place; `You Know I’m No Good’, the title track, `Tears Dry On Their Own’ (her homage to Tamla/Motown nugget `Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’) and `Love Is A Losing Game’ all Brit hits. Once again, Amy was furnished with award after award after award.
Subsequently celebrated on MARK RONSON’s smash-hit cover of The ZUTONS’ `Valerie’, in 2007, in which she took centre stage, Amy looked to be on top of the world. But fame and fortune was not dealing the cards out as she expected. Turning up too drunk to sing, cancelling concerts through entering a drug and alcohol “rehab” centre, nervous exhaustion and constant harassment from the paparazzi over her unsteady walkabouts with hubby Blake Fielder-Civil, dogged her every move. Her marriage ending in divorce in July 2009, there was refreshed hope when she was one of many artists who worked with QUINCY JONES on his `Q: Soul Bossa Nostra’ set in 2010; a duet with TONY BENNETT (`Body And Soul’) was also pencilled in for release. Then tragedy struck, when, on 23 July 2011, Amy was discovered dead in her Camden apartment. She was 27 years old. A much-hyped coroner’s report was delivered some three months later, where it was revealed that a lethal amount of alcohol in her blood was the cause – and not drugs! She’d claimed before her death that she’d stopped substance abuse. Her family, especially dad Mitch, took over control of her estate and helped with a series of posthumous CDs/DVDs, kicking off with the chart-scaling LIONESS: HIDDEN TREASURES (2011) {*7}. 2015’s aforementioned soundtrack, AMY {*5} (complete with an accompanying score by Antonio Pinto), was a nice touch to, hopefully, bring a conclusion to the short life of a superstar who’d so much more to give the world of music.
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2016

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