Frank, Island, 2003.
Much can be said about Amy Winehouse, one of the U.K.'s flagship vocalists during the 2000s.
The British press and tabloids seemed to focus on her rowdy behaviour and heavy consumption of alcohol, but fans and critics alike embraced her rugged charm, brash sense of humour, and distinctively soulful and jazzy vocals. Her platinum-selling breakthrough album, Frank (2003), elicited comparisons ranging from Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan to Macy Gray and Lauryn Hill.
Interestingly enough, despite her strong cockney accent and vernacular, one can often hear aspects of each of those singers' vocal repertoire in Winehouse's own voice. Nonetheless, her allure has been her songwriting - almost always deeply personal, but best known for its profanity and brutal candour.
Born to a taxi-driving father and pharmacist mother, Winehouse grew up in the Southgate area of Northern London. Her upbringing was surrounded by jazz. Many of the uncles on her mother's side were professional jazz musicians, and even her paternal grandmother was romantically involved with British jazz legend Ronnie Scott at one time.
While at home, she listened to and absorbed her parents' selection of greats: Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra among others. However, in her teens, she was drawn to the rebellious spirit of TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, and other American R&B and hip-hop acts of the time.
At the age of 16, after she had been expelled from London's Sylvia Young Theatre School, she caught her first break when pop singer Tyler James, a schoolmate and close friend, passed on her demo tape to his A&R, who was searching for a jazz vocalist. That opportunity led to her recording contract with Island Records.
By the end of 2003, when she was 20 years old, Island had released her debut album, Frank. With contributions from hip-hop producer/keyboardist Salaam Remi, Winehouse's amalgam of jazz, pop, soul, and hip-hop received rave reviews. The album was nominated for the 2004 Mercury Music Prize as well as two Brit awards, and its lead single, "Stronger Than Me," won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song.
Following Winehouse's debut, the accolades and inquiring interviews appeared concurrently in the press with her tempestuous public life. Several times she showed up to her club or TV performances too drunk to sing a whole set. In 2006, her management company finally suggested that she enter alcohol detox, but instead, she dumped the company and transcribed the ordeal into the U.K. Top Ten hit "Rehab," the lead single for her second, critically acclaimed album, Back to Black.
Containing evocative productions from Salaam Remi and British DJ/multi-instrumentalist Mark Ronson, the album somewhat abandoned jazz, delving into the sounds of '50s/'60s-era girl group harmonies, rock & roll, and soul.
The fanfare over the release was so great that it started to spill over onto U.S. shores; several rappers and DJs made their own remixes of various songs - not to mention covers by Prince and the Arctic Monkeys.
One month after Winehouse won Best Female Artist at the Brit Awards in February 2007, Universal released Back to Black in the U.S. The LP charted higher than any other American debut by a British female recording artist before it, and it remained in the Top Ten for several months, selling a million copies by the end of that summer.
Just as in the U.K., she became the talk of the town, landing on the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. Not long afterward, though, Winehouse cancelled her North American tour. Early reports revealed that she was entering rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, but her new management denied the claims, stating it was due to severe exhaustion.
Her erratic behaviour kept her and her new husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, constantly in the tabloids and on and off stages on both sides of the Atlantic, but in late 2007 American fans were finally given a chance to hear Winehouse's early work, with a slightly abbreviated (two songs removed and one added) version of Frank. ~Amy died of a drugs overdose in July 2011 Cyril Cordor, All Music Guide
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"The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time (although some may vote for Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday). Blessed with a beautiful voice and a wide range, Fitzgerald could out sing anyone, was a brilliant scat singer, and had near-perfect elocution; one could always understand the words she sang. The one fault was that, since she always sounded so happy to be singing, Fitzgerald did not always dig below the surface of the lyrics she interpreted and she even made a downbeat song such as "Love for Sale" sound joyous. However, when one evaluates her career on a whole, there is simply no one else in her class.
One could never guess from her singing that Ella Fitzgerald's early days were as grim as Billie Holiday's. Growing up in poverty, Fitzgerald was literally homeless for the year before she got her big break. In 1934, she appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, winning an amateur contest by singing "Judy" in the style of her idol, Connee Boswell. After a short stint with Tiny Bradshaw, Fitzgerald was brought to the attention of Chick Webb by Benny Carter (who was in the audience at the Apollo). Webb, who was not impressed by the 17-year-old's appearance, was reluctantly persuaded to let her sing with his orchestra on a one-nighter. She went over well and soon the drummer recognized her commercial potential. Starting in 1935, Fitzgerald began recording with Webb's Orchestra, and by 1937 over half of the band's selections featured her voice. "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" became a huge hit in 1938 and "Undecided" soon followed. During this era, Fitzgerald was essentially a pop/swing singer who was best on ballads while her medium-tempo performances were generally juvenile novelties. She already had a beautiful voice but did not improvise or scat much; that would develop later.
On June 16, 1939, Chick Webb died. It was decided that Fitzgerald would front the orchestra even though she had little to do with the repertoire or hiring or firing the musicians. She retained her popularity and when she broke up the band in 1941 and went solo; it was not long before her Decca recordings contained more than their share of hits. She was teamed with the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys for some best-sellers, and in 1946 began working regularly for Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. Granz became her manager although it would be nearly a decade before he could get her on his label. A major change occurred in Fitzgerald's singing around this period. She toured with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, adopted bop as part of her style, and started including exciting scat-filled romps in her set. Her recordings of "Lady Be Good," "How High the Moon," and "Flying Home" during 1945-1947 became popular and her stature as a major jazz singer rose as a result. For a time (December 10, 1947-August 28, 1953) she was married to bassist Ray Brownand used his trio as a backup group. Fitzgerald's series of duets with pianist Ellis Larkins in 1950 (a 1954 encore with Larkins was a successful follow-up) found her interpreting George Gershwin songs, predating her upcoming Songbooks series.
After appearing in the film Pete Kelly's Blues in 1955, Fitzgerald signed with Norman Granz's Verve label and over the next few years she would record extensive Songbooks of the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. Although (with the exception of the Ellington sets) those were not her most jazz-oriented projects (Fitzgerald stuck mostly to the melody and was generally accompanied by string orchestras), the prestigious projects did a great deal to uplift her stature. At the peak of her powers around 1960, Fitzgerald's hilarious live version of "Mack the Knife" (in which she forgot the words and made up her own) from Ella in Berlin is a classic and virtually all of her Verve recordings are worth getting.
Fitzgerald's Capitol and Reprise recordings of 1967-1970 are not on the same level as she attempted to "update" her singing by including pop songs such as "Sunny" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," sounding quite silly in the process. But Fitzgerald's later years were saved by Norman Granz's decision to form a new label, Pablo. Starting with a Santa Monica Civic concert in 1972 that is climaxed by Fitzgerald's incredible version of "C Jam Blues" (in which she trades off with and "battles" five classic jazzmen), Fitzgerald was showcased in jazz settings throughout the 1970s with the likes of Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass, among others. Her voice began to fade during this era and by the 1980s her decline due to age was quite noticeable. Troubles with her eyes and heart knocked her out of action for periods of time, although her increasingly rare appearances found Fitzgerald still retaining her sense of swing and joyful style. By 1994, Ella Fitzgerald was in retirement and she passed away two years later, but she remains a household name and scores of her recordings are easily available on CD. ~ All Music Guide
Source: Scott Yanow
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