Insight into the private world of Amy Winehouse
- Credit: Archant
Lifting the lid on the life of a North London Jewish family girl who went on to become an iconic pop figure and die tragically young
Standing in black and white heels, one arm perched on the mantelpiece and the other caressing her jet black hair, Amy Winehouse looks every inch the pop star.
But look closely at the life-size portrait that welcomes you when you step into Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait and you notice little facets of her personality that are more commonplace, more personal.
A Will & Grace boxset sits on the shelf, while framed magazine covers jostle with pictures of family and friends on the wall behind.
This is Amy before the booze and the beehive, standing in her new Camden Town flat shortly after the release of her debut album Frank.
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It’s this ability to marry Amy as the multi-award winning musician and the Jewish girl from north London that makes this exhibition so special.
Having been granted access to some of Winehouse’s most famous dresses, family portraits, a school uniform and even her cabbie dad Mitch’s knowledge map, this show is uniquely placed to display the late singer as you’ve never seen her before.
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A suitcase full of cherished family photos which Amy and her father spent the afternoon sorting through shortly before she died is one of the first pieces in the exhibition.
Over to the left and you see the Winehouse family tree, telling the tale of the family’s journey from Belarus to east London.
Most strikingly, it contains images of Amy’s grandmother Cynthia. Clearly the singer’s icon, the photographs of her are professional, glamorous even. She has the same grey streak in her fringe that Amy copied in later life and apparently the same love of jazz having once dated the musician Ronnie Scott.
Amy’s copy of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, a staple cook book in any Jewish household, sits alongside the family tree, complete with note from brother Alex, who put together the exhibition with his wife Riva, which reads: “Dear Amy, In case of loss of faith – turn to page 75” where a recipe for chicken soup can be found.
Yet while such insights into her family life are interesting, even moving, it’s seeing the emergence of Amy as a songwriter and musician from the perspective of her childhood in Southgate that really makes this exhibition.
Extracts from a 13-year-old Amy Winehouse’s application to the Sylvia Young Theatre School line the walls, you see her perform at a school show, get to look at her most cherished records, often stolen from her parents or brother’s collections.
All this while songs by Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald fill the gallery with sound – the order of the tracks were dictated by Amy when she was 15.
A scrawled handwritten playlist featuring jazz greats alongside late 1990s favourites Offspring hangs on the far wall – a teenager finding her musical voice.
Coming two years after her death, this exhibition is a timely reminder of just how big a talent Amy was and just how much she’s missed today.
n Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait is at the Jewish Museum London, 129-131 Albert Street, NW1, until September 15.