Amy Winehouse

Rhythm & Blues

In light of a recent exhibition at Melbourne’s Jewish Museum, VAULT looks back at the life and times of Amy Winehouse, the British singer-songwriter whose singular talent outshines her posthumous mythology.

By Inga Walton FEB 2018

Amy Winehouse, the British singer-songwriter whose sultry contralto vocals, and intuitive grasp of musical genres ranging across pop, soul, reggae, R&B, jazz and hip-hop, is regarded as one of the pre-eminent musical talents of her generation. Pianist Sam Beste, a member of Winehouse’s touring band, asserted, “She had one of the most pure relationships to music, such an emotional relationship to music – like she needed music as if it was a person, and that she would die for it.”

In an industry replete with interchangeable pop stars, overproduced reality TV contest winners, and preening boy bands, Winehouse was unabashedly retro. Her precocious vocal ability and deep timbre were reminiscent of Helen Shapiro, another star with a similar Russian-Jewish background, who enjoyed great success on the British charts in the early 1960s. In her musical arrangements and persona, Winehouse paid homage to vintage girl groups like the Ronettes, Shirelles, and Shangri-Las. Her lyrics were confessional and melancholic, but not self-pitying. There was usually an incendiary or defiant aspect to her musings. With her inventive phrasing and ability to extemporise, Winehouse inhabited the songs she performed; she could scat-sing like her idol Sarah Vaughan and purr like Eartha Kitt.

After she won the Brit Award for ‘British Female Solo Artist’ in 2007, Winehouse remarked, “If I really thought I was famous, I’d fucking go and top myself or something, ‘cause it’s frightening. Do you know what I mean? It’s a scary thing, it’s very scary.” Winehouse’s struggle to negotiate the divide between being an artist and being a star was already evident. She battled with an eating disorder and well-documented ... Subscribe to read this article in full


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ACCA MelbourneQAGOMA Roslyn Oxley Gallery Museum of BrisbaneGovett Brewster NGV