Have you ever wondered about the origins of a great musician? There's probably a huge list of people who inspired them and helped them create their unique style. These are Amy Winehouse's influences.
It’s undeniable that Amy Winehouse had a unique personality and talent that didn’t match completely with the time she lived in. And it's not just because of her vintage look or how similar she was to the other great musicians who belong to the famous "27 club." Amy was so much more than that. Her deep and scratchy voice took us on a journey to the time of the great soul and gospel singers, and her sad and heartbreakingly realistic lyrics moved us all in inexplicable ways.
Just like her music has inspired many emerging musicians and a whole new generation of music lovers who crave good music, there's a list of artists who shaped and influenced the type of music this iconic artist made. In an interview she gave in 2006 that remained unpublished until 2012 in the BBC documentary Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle, she explains what her main musical influences were, how she discovered them, and the importance they had in her life. So, here are nine of the most important figures who inspired her to become the great musician she was.
In the interview, Winehouse explains that she didn’t really listen to soul music regularly, but that, when she was around 14 or 15, she discovered Redding. He’s considered by many as one of the best singers and musicians in the history of American music (one of his many nicknames was actually the King of Soul). But the interesting thing about this connection with Winehouse is that he became her door not only to soul, but also to gospel, which became a huge influence on her as well.
Talking about gospel, we have to talk about two giants of the genre. The first is Mahalia Jackson, also known as the Queen of Gospel. Amy explains how even though she wasn’t a religious person, she always thought of gospel’s connection to God and spirituality as one of the purest demonstrations of love.
The second gospel icon is Aretha Franklin, one if not the most successful gospel and soul singer of all times. Amy wasn’t going to look for inspiration in random artists; she listened to the best ones, as you can see. Thanks to her unique voice, she was called (yes, you guessed it) the Queen of Soul. Basically, Amy was influenced by the very best of music royalty.
While the previous singers led her to the world of gospel and soul, it was Sarah Vaughan, the Divine One, who changed her musical world forever. In the interview, she talks about how this iconic jazz singer became her favorite of all time, not only due to her voice, but also for her ability to create music using only this instrument, meaning that she wasn’t just any decent interpreter: her voice was the only instrument she needed to move people to their core.
When she was only 14 years old, her 18-year-old brother discovered jazz and would always listen to Monk, a musician Amy felt a huge connection to. Along with Dinah Washington, both became central figures who inspired her to become a musician. His intense jazz compositions became the standard she wanted to reach with her music, and just like him, she was determined to become an icon, which we can agree she did.
Dinah Washington, however, was the one who taught her how to sing. You can even hear the similarities in vocalization and diction. Jumping from genre to genre, blues was her best genre and the one she revolutionized forever, which earned her the name of the Queen of Soul (of course).
Now, don't think that everything on Amy's playlist was soul, jazz, and gospel. She also liked more recent genres like hip-hop and rap. Salt-N-Pepa was one of the first bands from this genre that she heard, and it became an immediate favorite of hers. She said that when she first listened to them, she thought she'd finally found something valuable to listen to.
Remembering her reaction when she listened to these musicians for the first time, she talks about how one day, her brother was listening to Ray Charles, and, without thinking, she just barged into his bedroom and asked him who it was, even though she couldn't go inside without knocking. She was so amazemed, that she listened to him exclusively for three months. And who wouldn’t? He was, after all, the “Genius.”
Now, if you were wondering where her deep and heartbreaking songs come from, here’s one part of the answer. You know how there are songs that become the soundtrack of an episode of our life? Well, when she broke up with one of her boyfriends, this particular song (mixed with whiskey and fast food) became her only partner in sorrow. She discovered that in order to make more relatable and honest songs, you have to be inspired by the things that happen in your life.
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