The Controversial Amy Winehouse and her Brief Time In the Spotlight

“Amy Winehouse – Back to Black” is a 2018 documentary chronicling the creation of the singer’s 2006 breakthrough album. The documentary focuses on Amy’s creative and musical genius in regards to the aforementioned album rather than focusing on her troubled relationship and drug abuse issues. This article will help understand Amy’s inspiration behind an album that subjects itself to some very dark themes.

The controversial pop star, whose real name is Amy Jade Winehouse, was born on September 14, 1982 in Southgate London, England to a Jewish Family.

Amy’s Father, Mitchell Winehouse, was both a window panel installer and a taxi driver while her Mother, Janis was a pharmacist. Her family descended from Poland and Russia as Jewish immigrants to London.

Amy  lived in the suburban North London town of Southgate with her older brother Alex and the rest of her family. She attended Osidge Primary School as well as Jewish Sunday School.

Amy comes from a musical family consisting of a few professional Jazz musicians and was exposed to music at a very young age due to her fathers constant singing while growing up.

Amy Winehouse’s grandmother (on her Father’s side) was heavily involved in Jazz music. She was romantically involved with legendary British Jazz musician, Ronnie Scott. Moreover, Amy grew up listening to the music of Sarah Vaughan and James Taylor.

Amy began drinking when she was 9 years old. One of the major causes for this was her parents’ separation. She would spend weekdays with her mother and weekends with her father and his girlfriend. As a result of the divorce, there was a lack of parental guidance and she became very troubled and depressed.

At 10 years old, Amy’s musical tastes transitioned from Jazz music to American R&B and hip-hop. Acts such as TLC and Salt-N-Pepa were major influences to name a few and with these new influences, she formed an amateur rap group called Sweet ‘n Sour.

In 1992, Amy’s grandmother Cynthia, recommended that she further her vocal education. Cynthia then suggested Amy  enroll in Susi Earnshaw Theatre School which Amy did for four years before being accepted into Sylvia Young Theatre School.

Sylvia Young Theatre School is a prestigious school, specializing in performing arts, and having housed many musicians who’d gone on to be successful, it’s a dream school for every performer. However at 14, Amy was expelled for not applying herself and for putting a piercing in her nose. Founder of the school, Sylvia Young, has denied this saying she’d never have expelled Amy.

Together with other children from Sylvia Young School, Amy appeared on an episode of The Fast Show in 1997. She then later attended the Mount School in Mill Hill, Brit School, Osidge JMI School and Ashmole School.

Even though Amy was determined to achieve her dreams, her family issues were still causing her to make poor decisions. She began staying out all night drinking to help alleviate the devastation she felt in regards to her parents’ separation.

After playing around with her brother’s guitar, she bought her own and started writing songs the year after. She began working as a journalist for World Entertainment News Network in addition to singing in a local group named the Bolsha Band.

At 16 years old she got her first big break when her schoolmate and close friend, Tyler James, submitted her demo tape to an A&R person who was looking for a Jazz Vocalist. Amy was signed to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management in 2002 and earned £250 a week.

Her future A&R person at record label Island, Darcus Beesee, discovered Amy accidentally when the manager of The Lewinson Brothers showed him some of his clients’ productions that featured Amy as a key vocalist. For some time, she was kept as a recording industry secret.

Beesee introduced Amy to his boss at Island, Nick Gatfield. Upon hearing her demos, Nick expressed interest in signing the young artist. Before Amy finally signed with Island, rival record labels,  EMI and Virgin, tried making moves to sign her.

Beesee shared his excitement of finding an atypical pop star to different magazines and newspapers. Amy was the epitome of what audiences wanted at the time, most other pop stars were generic and had nothing new to offer the industry; but Amy was different. She was fresh and genuine.

Amy released her debut album, “Frank” on October 20, 2003. It was produced by Salaam Remi and most of the songs were influenced by jazz. The album received positive reviews and was nominated for 2 BRIT Awards – “Female Solo Artist” and “British Urban Act”.

Later in 2004, Amy and Remi won the coveted Ivor Novello Award for “Best Contemporary Song” recognizing  their first song together, “Stronger than me”. “Frank” was also shortlisted for the “Mercury Music Prize” in 2004.

After the release of “Frank”, Amy commented that she can only be credited for the 80% of the album because Island Records over-ruled the songs and mixes  that were included. Other notable songs from the album are “Take the Box”, “Pumps/Help Yourself” and “In my Bed/You Sent me flying”.

Instead of focusing on her jazz roots like her first album, Amy’s focus shifted to the girl groups of 1950s and 60s. She hired  “The Dap Kings” to help her with backup vocals in the studio and on tour.

In the biography “Amy, My Daughter”, her father described Amy as a perfectionist and hands-on. She would record her songs and then put them on a CD so that her father could play them in his taxi and find out how general people felt about her music.

In May 2006, Amy’s demo tracks “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No good” appeared on Mark Ronson’s New York Show on East Village Radio. These songs were heard after the release of  her song “Pumps” and would go on to be included on her second album “Back To Black”.

“Back to Black” is the 11-track second studio album of Amy Winehouse. It was released in the United Kingdom on October 30, 2006 with promotions beginning earlier in the month.

“Back to Black” peaked at number 1 on UK Albums Chart for two weeks in January 2007. It fell out of the top spot for a week but reclaimed it’s number 1 spot for several weeks in February. It also peaked at number 7 on US Billboard 200.

“Back to Black” spawned five singles – “Rehab”, “You know I’m No Good”, “Back to Black”, “Tears Dry on their Own” and “Love is a Losing Game”. The album was acclaimed by critics who praised Amy’s song writing, unorthodox singing style and  the album’s production value.

At the 50th Grammy Awards, “Back to Black” won the Best Pop Vocal Album and was nominated for the Album of the Year. It sold 3.58 million copies in the UK alone which was the UK’s 2nd best-selling album in the 21st century next to Adele’s “21”.

“Rehab” was the lead single of “Back to Black” album. It was written by Amy and is considered to be autobiographical as it expresses Amy’s feelings towards her refusal at entering a rehabilitation clinic. It peaked at number 7 in UK while topping out at 9 in the US. It was considered  her signature song.

Amy’s management company encouraged her to enter an alcohol rehabilitation center. She asked her dad for advice and he said he personally doesn’t think she should go but that she should try it out regardless. She joined for 15 minutes, explained that she’s drinking because she’s in love and screwed up the relationship, then walked out.

Mitch Winehouse was accused of capitalizing on his daughter’s fame rather than focusing on her health.  This was reflected in Amy’s song “Rehab”. However, Mitch has repeatedly stated that Amy was constantly surrounded by all the love and support possible.

Amy Winehouse became engaged to Blake Fielder-Civil on April 2007. She revealed that most of her songs from “Back to Black” were inspired by her relationship with the 23-year old man. On May 18, 2007, they married each other in Miami, Florida.

Amy was a self-proclaimed marijuana smoker. She was became a controversial figure because of the frequent reports of her continued drug abuse and strange behavior. On August 8, 2007, her North American tour was put on hold because she was hospitalized. Reports said Fielder-Civil is responsible for supplying illegal drugs to her.

According to reports, she was rushed to the hospital because of exhaustion. But Amy later admitted that she experienced a drug overdose by mixing heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, whisky and vodka while bar hopping in London.

In Norway during her European tour in the fall of 2007, Winehouse, Fielder-Civil and a third unidentified person were held in prison overnight for marijuana possession. The trio was released later that night after paying $715.00 of fines.

After her arrest, Amy showed up at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena to perform but seemed intoxicated during the performance. She received boos from the crowd and some of them walked-out. She then cancelled concerts and public appearances for the rest of 2007 citing “doctor’s orders” as the reason.

Despite her inconsistent touring schedule, Amy’s album continued to sell, reaching nearly five times platinum that year. She was scheduled to perform at the 2008 Grammy Awards, but was denied a U.S. Visa due to her public confession of using and abusing narcotics.

In spite of her musical success, her wealth and personal life began to deteriorate. In January 2009, Amy’s spokesperson confirmed that divorce proceedings had begun between Amy and her husband. Fielder-Civil filed divorce and cited adultery as the main reason.

Amy attempted a comeback and continued to set world records. She started her own record label which was called “Lioness Records”. The first artist to signed was her 13-year old goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield.

Amy Winehouse died tragically on July 23, 2011 due to accidental alcohol poisoning. According to some close to her, bulimia was also partly responsible for her death, making her weaker and more susceptible to potential hazards. Amy was 27 at her time of death.

Amy Winehouse’s enormous and one-of-a-kind talent was sometimes overshadowed by her controversial private life, drug addiction and alcohol issues, but despite all this, her short time in the spotlight has led many to consider her an icon.

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