Musicheads Essential Artist: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse performs in London in 2007
Amy Winehouse performs at London's Music of Black Origin Awards in 2007. (Jo Hale/Getty Images)
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Amy Winehouse is important because in her all-too-short career, she established her one-in-a-million voice on a series of records that introduced soul music to a whole new generation around the world, bringing in modern hip-hop influences and embracing a confrontational and risqué spirit that wouldn't have flown in the mid '60s.

Winehouse grew up in North London in an extended family that included a number of jazz musicians, and she frequently cited that early appreciation and awareness of jazz as one of the most important steps in her musical development. Before she was 18 she had parlayed those skills into a spot in England's national youth jazz orchestra.

Soon after that performance, Winehouse's demo attracted the attention of a management company that began to develop her. A bidding war built around Winehouse, and she ultimately signed with Island Records and released Frank in 2003. Winehouse's debut record made her a big name in her native England, but Back to Black, her sophomore release, made her an international star.

Back to Black earned five Grammy awards and sent Amy to the top of countless best-of lists in 2008, but ultimately, the pressures of stardom and strained familial relationships drove Amy farther into drug and alcohol addiction. After a string of failed returns to the studio and the stage, Amy ended up making moves toward sobriety, including pursuing a work-free island retreat that was well-documented in the moving 2015 documentary Amy — but on July 23, 2011, Winehouse was found non-responsive at her London home and was declared dead later that day.

Amy's soulful voice and courageous lyrics broke new ground and established her as one of the most important musicians in the world. As a dedicated student of soul and jazz music, she was respected as a true artist — not a sham celebrity giving soul a try because it was trendy that year. Though her life was cut short, her voice and spirit lives on as an influence on many of the artists working today.

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