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Amy Winehouse: Legendary Singer Who Left Us Too Soon

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Simone Joyner, Getty Images

With the news of Amy Winehouse‘s tragic death sinking in one day later, her membership in the ‘27 Club‘ sadly reminds us of how much talent left us too soon.

Over the course of her relatively short career and publicly troubled personal life, Winehouse’s star burned bright, and she is credited as the first to usher in the new wave of British soul that paved the generational way for the likes of Adele, Duffy and Florence and the Machine. Even Lady Gaga referenced Winehouse, with her sailor tattoos, teased beehive and extreme eyeliner, as a paver for her success.

So, where did it all start for the late, great Winehouse?

Winehouse was born to musical parents in North London who awakened the singer’s interest in jazz. Her dad, Mitch — who was reportedly in the US preparing for a performing gig when his daughter died — sang Frank Sinatra songs to her. Her first musical project was an amateur rap outfit, ‘Sweet ‘n’ Sour,’ which Winehouse once referred to as “the little white Jewish Salt-N-Pepa.”

The late singer attended (and was expelled from) Sylvia Young Theatre School. She eventually signed a publishing deal with EMI and was recording songs, causing a bit of an A&R bidding war for her services and talents.

Winehouse was also once a showbiz reporter for World Entertainment News Network, but her hankering for singing and making music could not be quelled. After years on the scene, she released her debut, ‘Frank,’ in 2003, which was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize; the award given to the year’s best British album. The song ‘Stronger Than Me’ received the Ivor Novello prize — the Ivors celebrated songwriting prowess — for Best Contemporary Song in 2004.

But while all these things allowed Winehouse to lay the bricks in the foundation of her musical career and garner her success in her homeland, she didn’t break through internationally until 2006′s ‘Back to Black,’ which received six Grammy nominations for its modern fusion of soul, jazz, doo-wop, jukebox vocals and ’60s girl groups panache. Winehouse won five of the six awards she was nominated for, walking out of the ceremony that year with an armful of awards and the accolade of being the first British singer to win five Grammys. She also nabbed three of the ceremony’s “Big Four” awards: Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. She also won Grammys for Best Pop Vocal and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

In 2007, Winehouse collected a BRIT Award for Best British Female Artist. She also reprised a win in the 2007 Best Contemporary Song category of the Ivor Novello Award for ‘Rehab,’ and in 2008, she won the Ivor Novello for ‘Love is a Losing Game,’ for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.

In the US, ‘Back to Black’ reached as high as No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and lodged itself on the charts for a total of 78 weeks, selling well over 2 million copies. During the media blitz of her ‘It Girl’ phase in America, Winehouse appeared on the cover of SPIN and Rolling Stone simultaneously, which is something of a no-no and a rarity for the competing music magazines.

While Winehouse battled substance abuse issues, eating disorders, early signs of emphysema (which her father claimed she developed from her smoking habits, including that of crack, leading her publicist to refute the claims in the press) and a volatile marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil, who was imprisoned during much of the union, her recording career took a bit of a backseat.

However, music did surface, such as her reworking of ‘It’s My Party’ for Quincy Jones’ 2010 album, ‘Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.’ Winehouse also recorded the standard ‘Body and Soul’ with Tony Bennett for his ‘Duets II’ album, due out in September, at London’s Abbey Road.

Just last year, rapper and musical visionary Jay-Z paid her one of the biggest complements, saying, “There’s a strong push coming out of London right now, which is great. It’s been coming ever since I guess Amy (Winehouse). I mean always, but I think Amy, this resurgence was ushered in by Amy.”

Winehouse certainly was an iconoclast who had music in her DNA. Her demons were well-documented and while her death may be sensationalistic, she has a legacy that — though only two albums and a bunch of songs deep — will honor her memory. She may be no longer with us, but future generations will be able to thank her for her efforts.

Winehouse will be remembered as the artist who forged the path, taking a machete and hacking at the bamboo of the music industry jungle to make a clearing for others like her. R.I.P., Amy Winehouse. The world of British music just got a little quieter.

Watch Amy Winehouse ‘Rehab’ Video

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