The death of a popular artist causes the public to reflect on that artist’s contribution to the pop culture lexicon, and Amy Winehouse’s tragic, yet foreseeable passing is no exception. Best known for the hit single “Rehab” from her platinum break-out album “Back to Black,” the British-born singer has joined the ranks of troubled, respected musicians tragically dead at age twenty-seven, including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all who left an indelible mark on the music industry. During this time of reflection, the question in the minds of many is this: will Amy Winehouse be remembered years from now as being a transformative force in the music industry or just a one hit winder whose biggest single foreshadowed what would ultimately be her demise?
Winehouse took the world by storm in 2007 with “Rehab” and the public was enthralled by the unknown young songstress’ jazzy vocals reminiscent of Nina Simone and edgy pin-up girl good looks. In light of her seemingly overnight success in the United States, some may perceive Amy Winehouse’s musical influence as fleeting; after all, one top single does not earn legendary status. The success of “Rehab,” however, was so large that the album which contained it, “Back to Black,” went double platinum and resulted in five Grammy awards for Winehouse in 2008, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album. Additionally, Winehouse’s five Grammy wins earned her a spot in 2009’s Guinness Book of World Records for most Grammy Awards won by a British Female Act.
When viewed from a global perspective, “Back to Black” was immensely successful. In the U.K., it is ranked as the 18th best-selling album of all-time and went platinum six times over, according to BPI. The album is the fifth most downloaded album of all time in Germany and remained on its Albums Chart for 119 weeks. Winehouse’s songwriting, often reflective of the inner turmoil related to her love life, was also critically lauded; as The Telegraph reports, Winehouse was awarded the prestigious Ivor Novello award for songwriting in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
Winehouse’s personal troubles often overshadowed her talent. Drug addiction followed her throughout a stormy relationship with on-again, off-again flame Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she married in South Florida at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse in 2007. When Fielder-Civil was sent to prison in 2008 for assault, Winehouse’s drug use spiraled out of control, forcing her to stumble through shows and cancel performances. “To be honest, my husband’s away, I’m bored, I’m young,” said Winehouse in a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone. “I felt like there was nothing to live for. It’s just been a low ebb.” Unfortunately, Winehouse’s “low ebb” continued after she and Fielder-Civil divorced during his stint in prison (where he remains today), sending the singer into a downward spiral from which she never recovered.
While Winehouse’s personal issues made it difficult for audiences and critics to separate her musical artistry from the drama of her life, Winehouse’s talent was nonetheless undeniable and influential. She ushered in a new era of singers reminiscent of the times when jazz and doo-wop ruled the airwaves, including Adele, Duffy, Bruno Mars and Kate Nash. Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Willman wrote in 2008, “Black will hold up as one of the great breakthrough CDs of our time…in the end, the singer’s real-life heartache over her incarcerated spouse proves what’s obvious from the grooves: When this lady sings about love, she means every word.” What a shame that the world will no longer have the opportunity to experience Amy Winehouse’s extraordinary vocals and lovelorn lyrics.