U.K. vocalist Amy Winehouse was found dead on Saturday in her London apartment. She was 27 years old. Winehouse was a tiny slip of a woman whose hulking contralto was rivaled only in size by her towering beehive hairdo. She broke out on the British music scene in 2003 with the release of her debut album, Frank, but her 2007 LP, Back To Black, transformed her into an international star.
The Grammy-winning sophomore album featured backing from funk ensemble the Dap-Kings (of Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings) and a production team that included Mark Ronson. Ronson held a guest DJ spot on NPR’s All Songs Considered back in January 2008, and he described Winehouse as a highly involved artist who had strong opinions about how her music should sound. “Amy was like really adamantly against putting strings on anything,” Ronson said. “To her, strings meant like sugar, syrupy, like really crap pop music.” Ronson snuck the strings into the album’s song “Love Is A Losing Game” anyway and played the final mix for Winehouse one day in the studio. “She came and she sat down, and she kind of had her head down in her hand the whole time we were listening, so I couldn’t see if she liked it or not,” Ronson said. “And the song’s over, and she just gets up and like with this beam, gives me this huge hug, and she’s like, ‘I love it.’ And I was just so relieved, and then she goes, ‘Except for that harp at the end of the second chorus. It sounds like some Mariah Carey bullshit. Take it out.’ And that was like your typical Amy way.”
Winehouse’s personal life came to overshadow her music, as drugs and alcohol crept into the singer’s world and kept her as a constant fixture in the tabloids. The cause of her death remains unknown at this point, though her drug and alcohol usage had led to health problems in the past. It’s this history that made Winehouse’s death come as a disheartening though not entirely unexpected tragedy.
Speculation on Winehouse’s ability to survive her substance abuse problems was already swirling back in 2007. That year, James Hannaham wrote an article for Salon that began, “We’re all expecting Amy Winehouse to die. It seems inevitable, given the ferocious soul singer’s combination of youth, chutzpah, talent, substance abuse and bad taste in men.” Though Hannaham’s piece referenced other members of the “27 Club,” those like Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix who all died at the age of 27, he also connected Winehouse more fittingly to an artist like Ray Charles, a fellow musician who fought with drugs and took comfort as an outsider (Charles as a black man, Winehouse as a Jewish woman) in R&B.
An outpouring of remembrance has come from Winehouse’s fans, record label and others, including Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, who issued the following statement: “We are very sad to have lost Amy Winehouse today. She was one of a kind, and we were fortunate to have had the chance to make music with her. She was always gracious and a pleasure to work with in the studio and on the road. She brought a lot of people joy with her voice and her irreverent personality. It is a tragedy that she was taken from us so soon when she had much more music to give.”
Winehouse’s funeral is expected to take place this week.