Why Amy Winehouse was such a loss for British music
It is a year ago to the day that we lost one of Britain’s most talented, controversial and opinion-splitting vocalists. Amy Winehouse was found dead at her house in Camden, after what was later discovered to be a case of alcohol poisoning, on July 23rd 2011. But despite all of the substance abuse problems and media frenzy, there is one reason alone that Winehouse should be remembered fondly by the general public – that oh-so-soulful voice.
The London-born singer burst onto the scene in 2003, as many future stars do, on Jools Holland’s show. Performing Stronger Than Me from her debut album Frank, Winehouse captured the attention of audiences across the country with her timeless blend of jazz, soul and funk, along with her effortlessly mesmerising vocals.
Frank was an instant success and Back to Black, Amy’s defining 2006 album, won her five Grammy awards, the title of biggest selling album of the 21st century and a spot in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. Tracks such as No Good, Rehab, Back to Black and Tears Dry on Their Own are certain to go down as all time greats. So why does her music, and more pertinently, her lifestyle still divide opinion amongst many?
As Winehouse’s fame and success rocketed, so did her personal problems, and the stereotypical rock star drug addiction took hold. The songwriter became a figure of ridicule and contempt in the national media as all attention was focused on what went into her mouth, rather than what came out of it. Amy was clumsily bundled into the Pete Doherty category of “wasted talent”, “rock star junkie”, “terrible role model for our children” that the British press adores to play on.
Lioness: Hidden Treasures was a post-humous album that went a long way to proving that Winehouse had plenty of musical gems still to share with us, regardless of what may have been going on outside of the recording studio. With Mitch Winehouse – the singer’s father – announcing that there are two more albums-worth of unheard material to be released over time, and a collaboration with Nas featuring on the rapper’s latest album (the stunning Cherry Wine), we can be sure that there is still plenty of Amy’s musical mastery to look forward to.
Yet it is not just Winehouse’s own musical offerings that we have to thank her for; she paved the way for a new generation of female vocalists. Not the cheesy girl-band vocalists of the 90s, but genuine, soulful vocalists like Adele and Joss Stone – love or loathe these performers, it is hard to deny that their voices are impressive and their talents real. Amy was a style icon and immeasurably strong, both as a performer and a personality.
Above all, Amy Winehouse re-opened the public’s ears to a style of music that had been lost decades ago. Her style of emotive, soulful jazz was a treat and a welcome breath of fresh air. Will there be a similar figure gracing the British musical horizon any time soon? Holding your breath is not advisable, so let’s just remember this one fondly and enjoy the music that Amy Winehouse left us with.