By Jon Wiederhorn
Much has been written about the troubled side of Amy Winehouse. The battles she waged with drugs and alcohol were as well-known to the public as the sound of her soulful, sonorous voice. Now, two years after she died of accidental alcohol poisoning at age 27, the London Jewish Museum has launched an exhibit that reveals a side of Winehouse that the public never knew.
"Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait," co-curated by her brother Alex and sister-in-law Riva, focuses on Winehouse's ethnic roots and early childhood, and reveals the strong bond she shared with her family.
Initially, the Winehouse family offered to donate one of the vocalist's dresses to the museum, but the gesture quickly blossomed into an invitation to create a full exploration of her youth and early career.
"The more we talked the more we realized the exhibition wasn't going to be about her dresses and her clothes," curator Elizabeth Selby told Billboard.com. "It’s all about her roots and her family life."
That said, those enticed by Winehouse's fashion sense will be pleased to find the sparkling blue dress she wore at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival as well as the tracksuits she donned at home. But there's also her first guitar and a posthumous Grammy Award on display, as well as various memorabilia that gave her an identity beyond that of a gifted singer.
The Amy Winehouse exhibition opened July 3 and runs through September 15. The London Jewish Museum is located in the London neighborhood of Camden, where Winehouse lived most of her adult life. She performed in local pubs and clubs, watched countless shows, and hung out with friends and family at local restaurants. It's also the town where she died on July 23, 2011.
The Winehouse exhibit traces her family back to her great-great-grandfather Harris Winehouse, who emigrated from Belarus to England in 1890. While he hoped to settle in New York, like many other Jewish immigrants he wound up in the East End of London. The collection includes photos and trinkets from Winehouse's great-grandfather Ben, who worked as an East End barber, and her grandmother Cynthia, an eccentric character who once dated jazz tenor saxophonist and club owner Ronnie Scott. (Winehouse's tattoos included one of Cynthia, whom she grew up with and who taught her to read tarot cards.)
The exhibit also features numerous captions from Alex Winehouse, many of which describe his memories of childhood photos and articles, including shots of Friday night dinners, his Bar Mitzvah, Amy's school uniform, Dr. Seuss books, and comics of Snoopy, a favorite of the award-winning singer, Billboard reports.
The show displays Winehouse's collection of Charles Bukowski and Fyodor Sostoyevsky books as well as her Sudoku puzzles and the wristbands, backstage passes, and ticket stubs from shows she viewed and played.
One of the most interesting items is an application essay Winehouse wrote to the Sylvia Youth Theatre School. "I want to be remembered for being an actress, a singer," she said. "[And I want] to sing in lessons without being told to shut up."
She certainly got her wish. And at least when she was singing, everyone kept their own mouths shut.