Some called her the second coming, the revival of what is known as British soul. Some thought she was overrated just because she was British, and that the ink spilled over her should have gone to more deserving artists. Some thought her tabloid exploits completely overshadowed whatever talent she possessed. All of these opinions about singer Amy Winehouse have an element of truth.
But train wreck or not, her death has left us with a bigger appreciation for the work she created when she was alive.
Winehouse was laid to rest this Tuesday after being found dead in her home at the age of 27. Her remains were cremated after the service. In a flurry that seemed fitting for the life she lead, news of her death spread through social media networks and news publications all over the world. Some were ready to crack jokes at the nature of her demise.
Others were ready to put her in that club of music legends who have passed away at 27 years of age (including Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison). Many were already making media out of her tragedy and putting together video tributes on YouTube and Facebook. It was a public celebration of a very public figure, for better or worse.
Winehouse was born Sept. 14, 1983, in Enfield, England. Surrounded by the jazz musicians in her family and Black American music in general, Winehouse easily picked up on her surroundings as a child. But it was in her teenage years that she was drawn to hip-hop and the more contemporary, hip-hop influenced R&B of groups like TLC. At the age of 16, Winehouse was kicked out of Sylvia Young Theater School in London and landed a deal with Island Records.
Her first album, “Frank,” was released in 2003 and featured contributions from hip-hop producer Salaam Remi. It didn’t set the world on fire but it did go platinum, making fans in the soul and R&B community take notice. The album was nominated for several Brit awards and the 2004 Mercury Prize. With the neo-Soul movement in full steam (thanks to the release of several essential albums from D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott), Winehouse seemed to follow that line of approach to the music and left a good mark, if not a significant one.
It was her second album, 2006’s “Back to Black,” and the hit single, “Rehab,” that made the mainstream take notice. “Rehab” is a snarky, tongue-in-cheek dig at the rehab culture of this generation, where everything can be considered an addiction to be cured with a 12-step program.
With assistance from the Dap-Kings, Mark Ronson and others, “Back to Black” was a smash success across the globe and landed her on the cover of magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin. Her take on 1960s soul and girl group harmonies became the talk of the town and artists like Prince, the Arctic Monkeys and various others rushed to cover or produce remixes of her work.
Soon enough, her erratic behavior, her issues with drugs and alcohol, public cries from her father to stop her self-destructive ways and a much-publicized marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil became the main story. Erratic shows followed and left her image tattered.
Despite all of this, many waited for Winehouse’s comeback record, thinking that somehow she could beat all of this and withstand what most people her age wouldn’t be able to handle. She couldn’t, and maybe it’s for the better. The public can’t feed off of her any more.