Just short of 10 years ago, the world lost one of its brightest new talents in Amy Winehouse. As a young British singer whose soulful voice sounded as if it came from another era, a musician whose fresh sound drew from an eclectic mix of genres, and a writer who could crank out an enduring hit in a couple of hours, Winehouse was an legend despite having only lived to 27. Today, the artist would have turned 35.
Winehouse, who struggled with depression, bulimia, anxiety, and addiction, channeled her emotional pain to create an entire album of hits with Back To Black. She lended to her jazz, hip hop, and 60's girl group-inspired tracks the raw vocal talent of a young woman with a self-education in jazz music.
In celebration of Winehouse’s life, wit, spirit, and musical contributions, we’ve dug up some of her best onscreen moments, including duets with her idols, some of her most charming interviews, and pre-career home videos.
Winehouse was 16 when she was encouraged by friend and manager Nick Shymansky to sign with Island Records. Having only ever wanted to be rollerskating waitress prior to launching her music career, she had no interest in fame or fortune but rather aspired only to make what she called “real” music—that is, music that genuinely reflected her emotions and personal taste.
Interviews in which the reporter doesn’t talk down to Winehouse or push her too far with prying questions are far and few, but this this one passes. The clip shows Amy talking openly about her maternal instincts, what she was like as a child, and her dreams about her late “nan.”
Something that frequently gets lost in the narrative is Winehouse’s wicked sense of humor. This early music video, featuring a bright-eyed, pre-Back To Black Winehouse (who seems to be having a ball singing about girls who strap on their “fuck me pumps” in preparation for a night out), is a lighthearted demonstration of both the singer’s vocal talent and wit.
This clip, which was featured in the award-winning documentary Amy, shows the artist transforming heartbreak into music. The gravity of this moment is even more acutely felt when the music drops out, leaving only her raw vocals ringing out into the empty studio space.
Highlights of this heavily-edited, almost-endearingly corny TV feature include: A secret gig in a church-turned-circus school, Amy complimenting a lemur on its hair, and Amy telling an anecdote about trying to play matchmaker for her mum.
No matter how many times you’ve heard the singer cover this song by The Zutons, it’s worth listening to live. Winehouse, true to her jazz roots, does something a little different in every live rendition of each of her songs, and somehow always makes it work.
It’s fun to see Amy’s excitement over performing with one of her idols, her humility in admitting that she sounds the way she does in part because of him, and her devious joy at the thought of making her dad jealous.
The subtlety of this particular song and performance ensures that Winehouse’s undeniable vocal talent is the star of the show.
Winehouse once said that this was her favorite song to perform live, and, based on the way she comes alive during this performance, you can see why. While most of her songs force her to return to a state of vulnerability, there’s a stubborn strength to this one that she embraces throughout, even letting out a curt laugh about halfway through.
Winehouse dismantles this Beatles classic and reshapes it into something that sounds as though it was always meant to be performed exactly like this.
- Live in Silvia, 1998
- “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” with Mick Jagger
- Winning Grammy Award for Record of the Year