Tribute to Amy Winehouse: A soul worth remembering

Published: 14/9/2023

Today would have marked Amy Winehouse's 40th birthday, a special occasion to pay tribute to a soulful genius whose music continues to captivate audiences around the world.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy showed how pressure to perform took its toll on Amy Winehouse. Picture: Entertainment One Films
Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy showed how pressure to perform took its toll on Amy Winehouse. Picture: Entertainment One Films

Winehouse was more than a singer; she was a force of nature and a jazz and soul artist who fearlessly challenged conventions. Join us as we reflect on her journey, celebrating the enduring mark she left on the music world and the hearts of her devoted fans.

Amy Winehouse was born on 14 September 1983, into a Jewish family in London. It would seem that Winehouse was destined for greatness from the start, for her early years were marked by a distinctive talent that quickly emerged during her time at the Sylvia Young Theatre School; which she was eventually expelled from for wearing a nose ring. Regardless, it was at Sylvia Young's that her powerful voice began to shine and her passion for music was ignited.

Amy Winehouse as a teenager. Picture: Supplied
Amy Winehouse as a teenager. Picture: Supplied

At home, Winehouse enjoyed listening to her parents' music collection, which included artists such as Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, among others. During her teenage years, she liked songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King and gravitated to the rebellious sounds of TLC, Salt-N-Peppa and various other 90s American R&B and hip-hop acts.

Later attending the prestigious BRIT School, Winehouse showed talent in the acting arena too. However, it was the jazz stage that she was most drawn to, and by the age of 16 she was performing regularly with local jazz groups.

Thanks to her best friend, soul singer Tyler James, who passed on her demo tape to Island Records, Winehouse was signed and began recording her first album.

"I felt there was nothing new that was coming out that really represented me and the way I felt. So I started writing my own stuff."

In 2003, her debut album Frank was released, showcasing her unique blend of jazz, R&B and soul sounds. Critics made early comparisons to music legends like Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday and her rise to fame from here was nothing short of catapulting - though not always in a positive light.

With the release of her debut album came interviews and photographers that exposed her tempestuous public life and erratic behaviour. Her management company quickly intervened, urging her to seek rehab. In true Winehouse style, she left the company instead, choosing to reflect on the moment, which ultimately led to her writing the smash hit Rehab, the first released track of her second album, Back to Black.

A tribute to Amy Winehouse: A soul worth remembering
A tribute to Amy Winehouse: A soul worth remembering

While the Frank album certainly earned Winehouse critical acclaim and set the stage for her illustrious career, it was her 2006 Back to Black album that propelled her to international stardom with several chart-topping hits.

Following its release in the UK, it was released in the U.S., where it remained in the Top Ten for several months, selling an impressive million copies by the end of the summer. Amy appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines; the media adored her music and the chaotic life that accompanied it. Sadly, like many musicians of a similar nature, this kind of spotlight likely did not help in her tragic demise.

"My justification is that most people my age spend a lot of time thinking about what they're going to do for the next five or ten years. The time they spend thinking about their life, I just spend drinking."

Winehouse's talent was unparalleled, and her music duly recognised with an impressive list of awards. At the 2008 Grammy Awards, she received an incredible five Grammy's in a single night! A testament to her extraordinary songwriting and vocal prowess. Her collaborations with artists like Tony Bennett and Mark Ronson further showcased her versatility and ability to connect with audiences of all ages.

One of Winehouse’s final appearances was at Abbey Road Studios in March 2011, recording a duet with Tony Bennett. Photo by Mark Allan. Tribute to Amy Winehouse
One of Winehouse’s final appearances was at Abbey Road Studios in March 2011, recording a duet with Tony Bennett. Photo by Mark Allan. Tribute to Amy Winehouse

"I write songs about stuff that I can't really get past personally-and then I write a song about it and I feel better."

Amy's songwriting was a window into her fragile soul. Her lyrics were raw, unfiltered and always deeply personal, which made her music resonate so deeply with audiences. Russell Brand recalls the awe that enveloped him when he witnessed her genius, writing:

"From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened."

Her incredible ability to capture the essence of love, heartbreak and drug-addiction in her songs was nothing short of extraordinary. She effortlessly channelled the spirit of her classic soul singer predecessors while adding her own unique and rugged twist.

Moriarrty says he sees ‘freedom and youth’ in the pictures. Picture: Charles Moriarrty
Moriarrty says he sees ‘freedom and youth’ in the pictures. Picture: Charles Moriarrty

Heartbreakingly, the next few years saw Winehouse in the media for all the wrong reasons. With no new music, a divorce to husband Blake Fielder-Civil, repeated arrests, mental health troubles and substance abuse issues, Amy Winehouse's mind and body simply couldn't take on anymore.

The world lost a true musical genius on 23 July 2011, when Amy Winehouse passed away at the age of 27. Her tragic death left a void in the music industry that will never be filled. What makes it even more tragic (if that is at all possible) is the potential she had to become one of the biggest music stars in pop and modern soul history, but her struggles ultimately took her too soon.

Although she was often the subject of tabloid scrutiny, who unfortunately were more interested in her tragedy than her talents, no one can deny her brilliance in delving deep into the raw and soulful aspects of the human spirit.

"Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about British music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blase about the whole thing. I don't think she ever realised just how brilliant she was and how important she is, but that just makes her even more charming." Adele's salute to Amy Winehouse

Tribute to Amy Winehouse Picture: Charles Moriarrty
Tribute to Amy Winehouse Picture: Charles Moriarrty

Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. Thank you for sharing your soul and your music. You will forever shine as a soulful star.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Latest articles

19 Funeral songs from the 90s to honour your loved one

19 songs from the 1990s to compliment a heartfelt farewell. These funeral songs can bring back memories...

19 Funeral songs from the 90s to honour your loved one

How do I find a funeral notice in Victoria?

How to find a funeral notice in Victoria with My Tributes. A safe platform to honour and connect...

How do I find a funeral notice in Victoria?

Laurie Theresa Harbort

Readers of the Catholic Leader during the period 1955 to 1980 would fondly remember the Uncle John’s...

Laurie Theresa Harbort

Shane Warne’s dad Keith delivers emotional eulogy at state...

Shane Warne’s father Keith has delivered a moving eulogy before he was overcome with emotion when...

Shane Warne’s dad Keith delivers emotional eulogy at state memorial

Can obituaries be private

Wondering how to preserve the privacy of obituaries while ensuring your family's wishes are upheld...

Can obituaries be private
View more articles