In the wake of the news of Amy Winehouse’s overdose this morning, we offer a look at Winehouse through the years, from beginning to end– using, of course, the music. The extraordinary music.
Amy Jade Winehouse was born in Southgate, a neighborhood in North London, to parents Mitchell, a taxi driver, and Janis a pharmacist. Her father was constantly singing Sinatra around the house, a habit that young Amy picked up. Her family was also responsible for instilling in her a love of jazz, which would later influence her own music. She showed promise as an actress; at the age of nine, her grandmother suggested that she enroll in the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School for proper training. Winehouse stayed there for four years before moving on to the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School; however, she was expelled from Sylvia Young, ostensibly for her lack of focus and attention (though some suspect her newly-pierced nose also had something to do with it). At 13, she got her own guitar; she began writing her own songs a few years later.
In 2002, she lucked out: Her boyfriend of the time, soul singer Tyler James, sent a demo tape of Winehouse’s music to an A&R person, after which Winehouse signed to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management. Her debut album, the heavily jazz-influenced Frank, took the music world on by storm, achieving platinum sales, BRIT Award nominations for British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act, and the Ivor Novello songwriting award for Best Contemporary Song. That song was “Stronger Than Me:”
And Winehouse was off and running. It’s almost certainly her 2006 album, Back to Black, that became the defining Amy Winehouse album. In May of that year, demo tracks of “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab” hit the airwaves on Mark Ronson’s radio show on East Village Radio, giving listeners a first taste of what would become two of her best-known songs. The album was released on the 30th of October, 2006 in the UK and quickly shot to the top of the charts– indeed, it was the best-selling album of 2007 in the UK. “You Know I’m No Good” would go on to become the theme song of the television show Secret Diaries of a Call Girl and would be covered by bands such as the Arctic Monkeys.
And “Rehab?” The irony and tragedy there escapes no one. Many recall this as the first Amy Winehouse song they heard, a number among which I count myself. It earned accolades as the Best Song of 2007, though at the time, no one realized that the sentiment behind it wasn’t as much of a joke as we all initially thought. She had battled substance abuse problems for a number of years and went through a period of heavy drug use in 2005. In 2007, despite her success with Back to Black, she ended up cancelling a number of shows in the UK and Europe due to what was publicized as exhaustion. It’s possible that the death of her grandmother– the same grandmother who enrolled her in drama school, and who has apparently one of the few stabilizing forces in her life– was the catalyst for what would become a life of excess and addiction. During this time, Winehouse was hospitalized for an overdose, and her turbulent relationship and marriage with Blake Fielder-Civil became daily tabloid fodder.