Amy Winehouse never appeared in Santa Barbara; the closest she came to seeing her Southern California fans was a canceled appearance at the Coachella festival in 2008. But a fanbase was here: Her 2007 album Back to Black appeared on numerous Santa Barbara year-end top-ten lists and garnered five Grammy Awards for the diminutive woman with her signature beehive hairdo and her large, soulful voice.
Her talent and popularity were accompanied by constant rumors of excessive drug use and narcotics addiction, and of a promising music career wasting away. In the end, the rumors became all too real, and on July 23 Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London flat at the age of 27. The exact cause of death is unknown pending the results of an investigation.
Looking back, Winehouse’s recorded output is shockingly slim—two short albums, and nothing at all for the past four years. She exploded on the scene with her first hit single, “Rehab,” with its insistent chorus—”They tried to make me go to rehab/ But I said no, no, no.” The 2007 album featuring “Rehab,” Back to Black, was a smash hit itself, selling millions and winning earning Winehouse the Best New Artist Award.
The enormous success of Back to Black also ignited a retro-soul R&B trend in British and American pop music that is still going strong, led by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, as well as Winehouse’s multi-talented producer, Mark Ronson.
But no participant in the retro-soul movement, not even its Svengali, Ronson, had the impact, and held the public’s interest, like Winehouse. The single “Rehab” and indeed the entire Back to Black album were ubiquitous in 2007-2008, heard everywhere from radios to dance floors, at house parties and fashion shows. Winehouse’s appeal defied easy classification; extending across age, gender, and race barriers. Simply put, Back to Black hit that all-too-rare sweet spot in popular culture.
With success came increasing tabloid attention, and, eventually, the tabloid images of public intoxication, petty bickering, and canceled performances overtook the music and swallowed Winehouse’s public image. Her fans, in Santa Barbara and elsewhere, pleaded with her to get back in the studio and record, but no music was released after Back to Black. Now, Winehouse’s fans will to wait for posthumous archival releases.
Amy Winehouse was born in Southgate, London, in 1983, and is survived by her mother, Janis, her father, Mitch, and her brother, Alex.