Amy Jade Winehouse (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011) was a British singer-songwriter, celebrated for her powerful vocals and soulful music.
Winehouse was born in Enfield to Jewish parents Mitchell, a taxi driver, and Janis, a pharmacist. She had one older brother, Alex.
Growing up in the Southgate area of Enfield, Winehouse went to Southgate School and then Ashmole School. She was introduced to music at an early age by her parents whose tastes ran from Carole King and James Taylor to the jazz classics her father favoured. At age 10 Winehouse and a friend formed a short-lived rap band called Sweet and Sour and then at 12, Winehouse entered the Sylvia Young Theatre School.
At about the same time Winehouse began to experiment with song writing. Conventional school did not last long either and Amy eventually dropped out, taking up part-time work that included a stint singing with a jazz band.
At 16, her close friend Tyler James, a soul singer, passed her demo tape to an A&R person. The move led to Winehouse signing with 19 Management, the management company owned by Simon Fuller, the man behind American Idol. With this expert backing, Winehouse signed to record label Island/Universal and eventually received a publishing deal with EMI. Winehouse hired a backing band, the Dap-Kings, who had long been supporting New York singer, Sharon Jones, and set about writing and recording her first album.
In early 2003 Winehouse met Blake Fielder-Civil, a music video production assistant, at a local bar. The two began a stormy relationship and Winehouse had his name tattooed over her heart.
Winehouse’s debut, Frank, was released on 20 October, 2003. The album’s jazz, pop, soul and hip-hop blend, together with its world-wise lyrics were received well by critics and prompted comparison with a host of artists, from Sarah Vaughan and Macy Gray to Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill. Apart from two covers, every song on the album was co-written by Winehouse and it marked the beginning of her collaboration with producer Salaam Remi.
Frank was nominated for two Brit Awards for British Female Solo Act and British Urban Act. Winehouse also won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song for “Stronger Than Me”. On the back of the album’s success, Winehouse performed at Glastonbury on the Jazzworld stage and at the V Festival.
In 2005, Winehouse teamed up with producer Mark Ronson and began writing her second album after an 18-month song-writing hiatus. Winehouse said Ronson’s involvement was so inspirational she wrote the album in six months.
As her fame grew, so did speculation in the press about her lifestyle. Her weight was a particular focus with the once-curvy singer appearing to drop several dress sizes in 2006. Winehouse told an interviewer her new slim look was due to cutting back on marijuana use.
Winehouse’s tempestuous relationship with Fielder-Civil was the catalyst for much of her destructive behaviour. During one break-up Winehouse admitted to drowning her sorrows in booze but she also used the heart-break as impetus in writing her new album. Her drug and alcohol intake increasingly affected her live performances, as she turned up to several club or TV performances too drunk to complete her set. Her management company suggested she enter rehab but rather than take their advice Winehouse dumped the management company and turned the experience into the catchiest song on her new album- “They tried to put me into rehab. I said, ‘No, no, no’...”
Winehouse later told The Sun newspaper she did go to rehab but did not last long: “I did, for just 15 minutes. I went in and said, ‘Hello’ and explained that I drink because I'm in love and have f****** up the relationship. Then I walked out."
In January 2006, Ronson played early versions of the soon-to-be-hits 'Rehab' and 'Wake Up Alone' on his radio show on New York’s East Village Radio. In late October of 2006 Winehouse’s second album, 'Back To Black', was released. The album, with shared production credits for Remi and Ronson, represented a move away from jazz and drew on 1950’s girl-group harmonies, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. The album was a massive success. It hit number one on the UK charts and debuted at number seven on the US Billboard 200.
'Rehab', the first single off the album, hit number seven on the UK charts and won Winehouse her second Ivor Novello award for song writing. The album won album of the year at the MTV Europe Music Awards and Best Pop Vocal Album and Best New Artist at the 2008 Grammy Awards. 'Rehab' won numerous awards including Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Time magazine rated 'Rehab' as the best song of 2007 praising Winehouse as “mouthy, funny, sultry, and quite possibly crazy". "It's impossible not to be seduced by her originality. Combine it with production by Mark Ronson that references four decades worth of soul music without once ripping it off, and you've got the best song of 2007,’’ it raved. 'Back To Black' was the top-selling album in the UK in 2007 for both over-the-counter and iTunes sales. Several other singles were released from the album and all charted well. In late 2007 Winehouse’s debut album Frank was released in the United States, debuting at number 61 on the Billboard charts.
In early 2007 Winehouse and Fielder-Civil ended relationships with other partners and got back together. In May the couple were married in Miami, Florida with Winehouse telling Rolling Stone magazine, “I know I'm talented but I wasn't put here to sing. I was put here to be a wife and a mum and look after my family.” In June of that year Winehouse, who has admitted to problems with depression and self-harm, was seen in a video posing for a photographer while scratching “I love Blake’’ on her stomach with a shard of broken glass.
Two months later she was rushed to hospital in London suffering from “exhaustion”, though she later admitted it was a drug overdose. Shortly after, Winehouse and Blake-Fielder checked into a rehabilitation retreat in Essex, England but checked out a few days later and went on holiday in St Lucia.
On 23 August, the newly-weds had a heated argument in a London hotel room with the London papers carrying photographs of a bruised and bloodied Winehouse and a scratched Fielder-Civil leaving the hotel. Winehouse denied her husband had caused the injuries, saying in emails that “I was cutting myself after he found me in our room about to do drugs with a call girl and rightly said I wasn't good enough for him. I lost it.” The incident caused a massive stir with Fielder-Civil’s mother saying on radio, "I think they both need to get medical help before one of them, if not both of them, eventually will die."
The controversy continued into October with the couple being arrested in Norway for possession of marijuana. In November, police raided Winehouse’s London home and arrested Fielder-Civil on charges of trying to pervert the course of justice. Police alleged Fielder-Civil had tried to pay off a witness due to give testimony in an assault case he was involved in. Later that month, with Blake in jail, Winehouse turned up to Birmingham concert drunk and emotionally distressed. She was booed by the audience and the critic for the Birmingham Mail said the show consisted of “a supremely talented artist reduced to tears, stumbling around the stage and, unforgivably, swearing at the audience”. She later cancelled all further appearances for 2007 saying on her website: “I can't give it my all onstage without my Blake. My husband is everything to me and without him it just isn't the same.”
On 22 January, 2008, The Sun newspaper revealed footage of Winehouse allegedly smoking a crack pipe and talking about taking ecstasy and valium. She entered a rehab facility days later with her record company issuing a statement saying, “She has come to understand that she requires specialist treatment to continue her ongoing recovery from drug addiction”.
Two weeks later Winehouse won five categories at the 2008 Grammy Awards but visa complications arising from her drug use prevented her from attending in person. She accepted via satellite from London and performed her hits 'You Know That I’m No Good' and 'Rehab'.
Award success aside, 2008 was a memorable year for all the wrong reasons for Winehouse. Further breakdowns and attempts at intervention by her family were about to bring promises of an exceptional career to a shuddering halt.
Her turbulent marriage to Fielder-Civil deteriorated until the point that he requested a divorce, based on both claims of adultery and also to 'save' the life of his wife, who was suffering a series of health complications that were starting to not only threaten her career but her life.
Sadly, on 23 July 2011, Winehouse was found dead at the age of 27 at her home in Camden, North London. As yet, a formal cause of death has not been established due to further toxicology tests needing to be untaken.