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Troubled Soul Singer Amy Winehouse Found Dead

British soul singer Amy Winehouse was found dead at her London apartment Saturday. Winehouse struggled publicly with drinking and drug addiction. (AFP/Getty Images)

Singer Amy Winehouse, who mixed pieces of soul, jazz, and gospel into pop ballads, was found dead in her apartment Saturday. Police are so far listing the cause of death as "unexplained." Her career as a musician was often overshadowed by her life off-stage, Winehouse struggled with drugs and alcohol throughout her life.

Winehouse wasn't one to apologize for her substance abuse. In fact, it's a big part of what made the singer so famous, or infamous. Winehouse released her first album, Frank, in 2003, but three years later she shot to super stardom, with her song, "Rehab."

"Rehab" hit the top 10 in the UK and the United States, her album, Back to Black, shot to No. 1 and won her five Grammys. Rolling Stone contributor Claire Hoffman says that Winehouse was unlike any other of her time.

"It was basically like this scrawny little tattooed white girl from working-class London who somehow, when she got on stage, sounded like these great soul singers of the '60s," Hoffman says.

Born on Sept. 14, 1983, to a Jewish family with a history of jazz musicians, Winehouse was critical of her pop-diva predecessors. As she told the BBC in 2003, she made music in reaction to what she saw as a packaged, cheap sound in pop.

"I think when I was growing up, the music that was in the pop charts or the music that was — that people were releasing at the time, I just thought, 'This isn't music.' This is just watered down or this is just crap — someone else has just written it for you and you have to sing it. It's very much the case in some music today," she said.

Winehouse said that she wanted to write something that she could call her own, and though it sounded different, it didn't always sound great. As YouTube rose in popularity, so did videos of train-wreck performances from a drunken and belligerent Winehouse. The singer did check into rehab in 2008, 2009 and then again in 2011. She was often on the front pages of tabloids for her behavior off stage: fighting with fans, marriage problems, substance abuse. Hoffman says that this was the essence of her celebrity.

"It seemed like it went hand-in-hand that she was both so troubled and so talented," Hoffman says.

For a time, it seemed, there was hope. Rumors of a follow up to Back to Black buzzed in the music press for much of 2011. She's also featured on a duets album with Tony Bennett, set to be released in September. But in June she cancelled a European tour after a botched performance in Belgrade, Serbia. Winehouse returned to London to recover, but was found dead Saturday. She was 27 years old.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, host: Finally today, some sad news from London. Amy Winehouse, who some say revitalized soul music, was found dead in her apartment. It's still not clear how she died, but her struggles with drugs and alcohol were almost as well-known as her powerful and soulful voice. NPR's Sam Yenigun has this look back.

SAM YENIGUN: Amy Winehouse wasn't one to apologize for her substance abuse. In fact, it's a big part of what made the singer so famous - or infamous. Winehouse released her first album, "Frank," in 2003, but three years later, she shot to super stardom with this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REHAB")

AMY WINEHOUSE: (Singing) They tried to make me go to rehab. I said no, no, no. Yes, I've been black, but when I come back you'll know, know, know. I ain't got the time...

YENIGUN: "Rehab" hit the top 10 in the U.K. and the United States. Her album "Back to Black" shot to number one, and won her five Grammys. Rolling Stone contributor Claire Hoffman says that Winehouse was unlike any other of her time.

CLAIRE HOFFMAN: It was basically like this, like scrawny, little, you know, tattooed white girl from working-class London who, somehow when she got on a stage, sounded like, you know, these great soul singers of the '60s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK TO BLACK")

WINEHOUSE: (Singing) And I tread the troubled track, my odds are stacked. I'll go back to black. We only said goodbye with words. I died a hundred times. You go back to her, and I go back to, I go back to us...

YENIGUN: Born on September 14, 1983, to a Jewish family with a history of jazz musicians, Amy Winehouse was critical of her pop diva predecessors. And as she told the BBC in 2003, she made music in reaction to what she saw as a packaged, cheap sound in pop.

WINEHOUSE: I think when I was growing up, the music that was in the pop charts or the, you know, the music that was - that people were releasing at the time, I just thought, this isn't music. This is watered down or this is, you know, just crap. Someone else has written it for you, and you have to sing it. It's very much the case in some music today.

YENIGUN: Winehouse said that she wanted to write something that she could call her own. And though it sounded different, it didn't always sound great. As YouTube rose in popularity, so did videos of train-wreck performances from a drunken and belligerent Winehouse. The singer did check into rehab in 2008, 2009, and then again earlier this year. She was often on the front pages of tabloids for her behavior offstage: fighting with fans, marriage problems, substance abuse. Claire Hoffman says that this was the essence of her celebrity.

HOFFMAN: It seemed like it went hand in hand, that she was both so troubled and, you know, so talented.

YENIGUN: For a time, it seemed, there was hope. Rumors of a follow-up to "Back to Black" buzzed in the music press for much of this year. She's also featured on a duets album with Tony Bennett, set to be released in September. But last month, she canceled a European tour after a botched performance in Belgrade, Serbia. Amy Winehouse returned to London to recover but was found dead today. She was 27 years old. Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "F ME PUMPS")

WINEHOUSE: (Singing) When you walk in the bar and you dress like a star, rocking your F me pumps. And the men notice you, with your Gucci bag crew, can't tell who he's looking to. 'Cause you all look the same. Everyone knows your name. And that's your whole claim to fame. Never miss a night 'cause your dream in life is to be a footballer's wife. You don't like players, that's what you say...

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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