Amy Winehouse, the influential vocalist whose career was marked by her jazz, soul and R&B musical style and storied addiction and mental health problems, was found dead in her London apartment on Saturday.
At press time, the police reported the 27-year-old musician’s death as “unexplained” and said “no arrests in connection with the incident” had been made.
Winehouse rose to fame in the U.K. with her 2003 debut album Frank, which The New York Times described as a “glossy admixture of breezy funk, dub and jazz-inflected soul.” It was her Motown-inspired 2006 follow-up, Back to Black, that earned her serious international acclaim, including five Grammy awards, and was listed on a score of critics’ year-end top 10 lists.
Her smooth, emotive and piercing contralto vocals were in stark contrast to her private life, riddled with tabloid covers and tales of her struggles with drugs and alcohol, which she famously sent up on her most iconic song, “Rehab:” “They tried to make me go to rehab / I said, ‘No, no, no.’”
Despite her troubles, her music proved highly influential in reinvigorating the soul music scene and kicking off a wave of commercially and critically successful female musicians with strong voices. Adele told People in 2009 that Winehouse helped make it possible for musical acts like herself and Duffy to be so widely received. In 2010, Rapper Jay-Z likened Winehouse’s ascent as the revitalization of British music, telling the BBC, “It’s been coming ever since I guess Amy [Winehouse]. I mean always, but I think Amy, this resurgence was ushered in by Amy, that’s how I see it.”
Lady Gaga credits Winehouse, whose distinct ’60s girl group look with heavy mascara and swirled, beehive hair, for making her own offbeat style more accessible. Her influence can still be seen in other recent popular female vocalists, including Florence and the Machine, La Roux and Little Boots.
Winehouse last performed in Austin in 2007 during South By Southwest. During her set at the Island Records party, she performed “Love Is a Losing Game,” a melancholic ode to the tragedy of love with soaring, controlled vocals and a steely gaze. The crowd was mostly silent but staring directly at her — you weren’t sure if they’re savoring the performance or just politely listening along. But when the song ended, Winehouse cracked a brief smile and the crowd roared with cheers and applause.
One of her final recordings was a cover of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” with Quincy Jones. The song is perhaps the most befitting for Winehouse to have recorded, its thematic thrust perfectly in line with her attitude. She may have been an addict and unhealthy, but she didn’t care because she knew she had the goods — it was always Winehouse’s party and she did what she wanted.
Printed on 7/25/2011 as: Grammy Award-winner Amy Winehouse dies at 27