With a towering bee-hive, sitting atop a slender frame and tattoos that would have put a sailor to shame, Amy Winehouse, who has died aged 27, stood out even in the colourful North London social scene she frequented. But what set her apart, what guaranteed the diminutive singer global attention was a mind-blowingly powerful voice that led to comparisons with jazz greats Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughn and an astonishing knack for writing soulful, pain-ridden lyrics.
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If her voice sounded like it was scraped off the bottom of a whisky bottle, that might have had something to do with the fact that sadly - like many of her idols such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix - her musical genius was matched by a talent for self-destruction and problems with drugs and alcohol.Amy Jade Winehouse was born on September 14, 1983, in the London suburb of Southgate to Jewish parents Mitchell, a taxi driver and jazz enthusiast, and Janis, a pharmacist. She began writing songs as a child, and, aged ten, formed a rap duo with her best friend that went by the name of Sweet 'n' Sour. The budding soul songstress was, of course, Sour. Amy enrolled at the Sylvia Young theatre school, but discipline and conforming to rules was never her strong suit. She was thrown out for piercing her own nose.
A few years later she won a contract when a demo tape ended up at Island Records. Her debut album Frank, released in 2003, was described by The Times newspaper as "earthy, warm, lived-in and astonishingly versatile". This was followed by Back to Black. Everyone who had ever wept for a lover empathised with the heartbreak summed up in the lyrics “You go back to her and I go back to black”, about her tempestuous relationship with husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
If Blake, a music video assistant, inspired her finest hour, he was also there during her darkest periods. Unfortunately, he was also an addict and what he described as their "mad little nights" often hit the headlines when Amy would seen running through their neighbourhood, in the early hours, out of control. At first the chaos didn't hinder her creativity. Her short career was littered with awards.Rehab, her signature anthem about her refusal to seek treatment, won an Ivor Novello best contemporary song award in 2007. It also led to Amy being named best British female at the Brit Awards and artist of the year at the MTV Music Awards. Her mantelpiece was loaded with Grammys too - she won five, including best new artist.It was a high point that she never topped. Despite the dissolution of her two-year marriage to Blake in 2009, and numerous attempts at fresh starts, often at the insistence of her family, it seems Amy tragically couldn’t buck the stereotype. Among those paying tribute was her friend, singer and actress Kelly Osbourne.She tweeted: "I cant even breath right now I'm crying so hard i just lost 1 of my best friends. I love you forever Amy & will never forget the real you!"Rock critic Neil McCormick said: "It's deeply sad. It's the most completely tragic waste of talent that I can remember".