On July 23, 2011, the world lost one of the greatest singer-lyricist of our time, Amy Winehouse.
Soul, jazz, R&B and hip hop, Winehouse infused it all with her own unique sound. But who influenced Winehouse’s music? Over the next few days TWM will look at the artists whose influence can be seen in her life and work. Chaka V.
Contemporary music would not be what it is today without the groundbreaking artist Ray Charles. And perhaps without Ray Charles, Amy Winehouse’s music would have sounded very different.
Charles paired Sunday morning gospel vocals with grind-and-wine Saturday night R&B. The thrilling combination was named “soul” music. While many notable artists were also blending the church with the club, it was Charles whose combination hit a universal chord with music lovers. Charles soul music, filled with its suggestive lyrics and groans of “appreciation,” was unapologetically scandalous. His stellar voice, stunning vocal styling and lively – a tad rowdy – way on a piano had even churchgoers moving to his sinful sounds.
“I Got A Woman,” “Hit the Road Jack,” What’d I Say,” “Unchain My Heart,” the list of hits literally goes on and on. Despite going through notable lows personally – a well-documented drug addiction – and professionally, lack luster albums in the 1990’s, Charles was never afraid to take risks and experiment with genres and standards, and more often than not once he did, he made them completely his own. Because of his originality, charisma and blazing talent, Charles’s influence on artists and contemporary music has not diminished. The “Ray” biopic starring Jamie Foxx (Foxx would go on to win an Academy Award show for his performance) further affirmed Charles’ impact on American music.
Winehouse described being so taken by Charles’s voice after hearing “Unchain My Heart” playing from her brother’s room that she listened to Charles exclusively for the next 3 months. Undoubtedly, like the many music legends who witnessed Amy Winehouse’s tremendous talent – e.g. Tony Bennett, Prince and so many more – Charles would have been honoured to see how his music, some forty years prior, had inspired tremendous talent like hers.
Like Charles, Winehouse mingled sexually blunt lyrics, raw emotional revelations and a voice that could not be denied, to create music that reached people in a profound and unforgettable way.