“I don’t want to go to rehab,” is how one of the hit singles, “Rehab”, off of Amy Winehouse’s album “Back to Black” begins. Winehouse garnered five Grammys for this album alone, winning six Grammys overall and earning nominations for two more. The album rests on the U.K. Album charts at number 62 as of 2015. By the time Winehouse died in 2009, she was a highly celebrated artist, famous for her tone and style of singing, reminiscent of the jazz of years prior.
Unlike her previous album, “Frank,” a more straightforward pop/R&B album, “Back to Black” was a love song to girl groups of the 60s. Winehouse wore her hair in a high beehive, and lined her eyes with thick, cat-like eyeliner. She used more traditional instruments like horns and brass than other artists of her time, who were using more electronic instrumentation to create their music. Her singing, throaty and deep, reminiscent of earlier artists like Ronnie Spector, made her famous. Winehouse paved the way for contemporary jazz, a genre of music that was slowly flickering out of the public eye.
The album was produced by Mark Ronson, a DJ and musician famous for his semi-recent song “Uptown Funk.” Ronson produced many other alternative groups’ music, and featured Winehouse on his song “Valerie.” The album peaked at number one on the U.K. Albums chart, and today still remains at 62. It won the Grammy for “Album of the Year”, as well as “Best Pop Vocal Album,” and “Rehab” won both best record and song of the year, as well as “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.” Her songs would go on to be covered by musicians like Bruno Mars, and be performed on the show Glee, among other places.
The album’s name, however, pointed to Winehouse’s persistent drug problem. Black, a colloquialism for heroin, is something Winehouse struggled with for years, since the beginning of her career in 2003, with the release of “Frank.” She was sent to rehab for drug abuse and alcoholism less than a year after the album’s release, and was hospitalized twice more for bulimia and over-consumption of alcohol before her death. Winehouse was charged several times throughout the rest of her life for both possession of illicit drugs and an assault. In 2009, not three years after her album’s release, she was found dead in her London apartment, with a blood alcohol level more than five times the legal limit.
Despite her difficult personal life, Winehouse’s music went on to inspire other female contemporary jazz artists, most famously Adele. Her talent and her short career, would go on to do much for the popularizing of R&B sound in mainstream pop music. Though she only recorded three albums (two released during her lifetime, and one released posthumously), she is cited as a source of inspiration for many female jazz contemporaries today. Her tale, a cautionary one about drug use and alcoholism, is sad, but her style was iconic, unique and her personality shined through her music in a way that can still be heard years later.