Amy Winehouse | Biography, Songs, Death, Documentary, & Facts (2024)

British singer-songwriter

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Written by

Jeff Wallenfeldt Jeff Wallenfeldt was manager of Geography and History at Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Jeff Wallenfeldt

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree. They write new content and verify and edit content received from contributors.

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Last Updated: Article History

Gone too soon

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Born:
September 14, 1983, London, England
Died:
July 23, 2011, London (aged 27)
Awards And Honors:
Grammy Award for best new artist
Grammy Award (2011)
Grammy Award (2007)
Subjects Of Study:
“Amy”

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Top Questions

Who was Amy Winehouse?

Amy Winehouse was a British singer-songwriter who skyrocketed to fame as a result of the critically acclaimed multiple Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black, released in 2006. Her tempestuous love life and substance abuse problems stalled her recording career and drew media attention.

What album did Amy Winehouse win a Grammy for?

Amy Winehouse won a Grammy for the album Back to Black, released in 2006. It was honored with five Grammy Awards, including two (best song and best recording) for the song “Rehab."

When did Amy Winehouse sing with Tony Bennett?

Amy Winehouse collaborated with Tony Bennett on the album Body and Soul. It was released in 2011 after Winehouse's death, and it won a Grammy for best pop performance by a duo or group.

Is there a documentary about Amy Winehouse?

The 2015 film Amy chronicles Amy Winehouse's career through the use of documentary footage and interviews with her colleagues and intimates. It won an Academy Award for best documentary.

How did Amy Winehouse die?

Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, in London.

Amy Winehouse (born September 14, 1983, London, England—died July 23, 2011, London) was an English singer-songwriter who skyrocketed to fame after the release of her critically acclaimed multiple Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black (2006). However, her tempestuous love life and substance use stalled her recording career even as they made her a favorite subject of tabloid journalism.

Early life

Winehouse was born in north London to a Jewish family. She and her elder brother, Alex, were raised primarily by their mother, a pharmacist, who divorced their father, a taxicab driver, when Winehouse was 9 years old. Early on she demonstrated an interest in the arts, but she was reportedly expelled from the Sylvia Young Theatre School for wearing a forbidden nose ring. Young, the school’s founder, repeatedly denied that Winehouse had been expelled, though the story continued to circulate as part of the mythology of the singer’s inclination for rebelliousness. At the prestigious BRIT School (a school for the performing and creative arts), Winehouse showed ability as an actor as well as a singer, and by age 16 she was performing with jazz groups.

Britannica Quiz2000s Music Quiz

Frank

On her critically acclaimed debut album, Frank (2003), Winehouse proved herself to be a shrewd, caustic lyricist, and her smoky, evocative vocals drew comparisons to jazz and rhythm-and-blues legends Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Billie Holiday. Yet Winehouse was vocal about her dislike for the album, telling The Guardian that she did not even own a copy of it herself. The album’s single “Stronger Than Me” won an Ivor Novello Award for best contemporary song.

Back to Black

A series of tumultuous romances followed for Winehouse, none more fevered than her on-again, off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, about whom many of the heartbreak songs on her next album, Back to Black, were written. Her singing on that album, more in the vein of Motown and 1960s and ’70s soul, delighted critics. The album’s hit singles include the dark and desperate title track, the bad-girl’s lament “You Know I’m No Good,” and the infectious “Rehab,” with its sultry “no, no, no” refusal to enter drug and alcohol treatment. An Entertainment Weekly reviewer wrote, “It’s precisely Winehouse’s lyrics—smartass, aching, flirty, and often straight-up nasty—that raise this expertly crafted set into the realm of true, of-the-minute originality.”

Personal troubles and professional success

A very different-looking Winehouse began appearing in the tabloids as Back to Black took off in Britain and broke through in the United States, entering the American charts at number seven, the highest debut position for a British woman at the time. Stick-thin and tattooed, Winehouse began piling her jet-black hair in an enormous beehive that, along with heavy Cleopatra-style eye makeup, became her trademark look, recalling the classic girl groups of the 1960s such as the Ronettes. After marrying Fielder-Civil in May 2007, Winehouse began behaving increasingly erratically and canceling shows. Her very public slide into personal chaos—marked by dramatic weight loss (Winehouse struggled with bulimia), drunken performances, an arrest in Norway for marijuana possession, and the incarceration of Fielder-Civil after a bar fight—culminated in January 2008 in the posting on the Internet by the Sun newspaper of a video in which Winehouse appeared to be smoking crack cocaine.

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In the wake of the video, Winehouse had difficulty obtaining a visa to appear at the 2008 Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, and a special satellite performance was arranged in London. At the event, Back to Black was honored with five Grammy Awards, including two (best song and best recording) for “Rehab.” In November Winehouse was named Best Selling Pop/Rock Female at the World Music Awards.

Death

Despite Winehouse’s many troubles, her remarkable musical talent was regarded as undeniable by fans and critics alike. However, her life seemed to continue to spin out of control. Although she entered rehab, she did not remain long, and reports of substance use continued to follow her. In July 2009 she and Fielder-Civil divorced. Two years later Winehouse attempted a comeback tour, but it was canceled after the singer appeared to be intoxicated at the opening concert. She died from alcohol poisoning the following month.

Posthumous releases and legacy

“Some people think that anyone could sing jazz, but they can’t. It’s a gift of learning how to syncopate, but it’s also a spirit that you’re either born with or you’re not. And Amy was born with that spirit.” —Singer Tony Bennett on Amy Winehouse

Winehouse’s duet with Tony Bennett, “Body and Soul,” was released posthumously in 2011, and the song ultimately won a Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group. It was followed later that year by Lioness: Hidden Treasures, a collection that included previously unreleased original songs, covers, and demos. The collection reached number five on the Billboard 200 chart. The 2015 film Amy chronicled her career through the use of documentary footage and interviews with her colleagues and intimates. It won an Academy Award for best documentary.

A biopic of Winehouse’s life, Back to Black, was released in 2024, starring Marisa Abela as the brilliant but troubled singer.

Jeff Wallenfeldt The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Amy Winehouse | Biography, Songs, Death, Documentary, & Facts (2024)
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