Amy Winehouse was known for her beehive hairstyle, iconic fashion sense and passion for music, but a new exhibition reveals the talented singer also shared an incredible bond with her Jewish family – and loved chicken soup, writes Francine Wolfisz.
Opening today at the Jewish Museum in Camden, Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait features a wealth of unpublished photographs, designer clothes worn by the late singer, her eclectic record collection and other memorabilia.
The exhibits, put together with the help of Amy’s brother Alex and his wife Riva, include the cherished guitar on which she composed songs, her audition essay to the Sylvia Young stage school and the Grammy posthumously awarded in 2012, for her duet with Tony Bennett.
There is also an old suitcase filled with family photographs, which the 27-year-old had been looking through just days before she died from alcohol poisoning in 2011.
Curator Elizabeth Selby notes: “She had asked her father to come over and go through the photographs with her. That was the last time Mitch saw her, so there’s a real poignancy to that object.”
A section of the exhibition is dedicated to the Back To Black singer’s Jewish history and strong connection with her roots.
In one caption, her brother Alex writes: “This is a snapshot of a girl who was, to her deepest core, simply a little Jewish kid from north London with a big talent who, more than anything, just wanted to be true to her heritage.”
Among the exhibits on display is a copy of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, which Alex gave to his sister for her birthday in 2002.
He writes: “I bought it for her because she wanted to know how to make chicken soup. It wasn’t a particularly great creation. Her meatballs were always excellent though.”
There is also a large family tree which traces Amy’s roots back to her great-great grandfather Harris Winehouse, who arrived in London from Belarus in 1890.
Alex quips: “He came to London by mistake. He was supposed to be going to New York, but now the thought of us being from anywhere else seems ridiculous. 120 years later we’re still here and still proud of our roots.”
Browsing through the photographs on display, visitors can also see Amy as a youngster at Yavanagh Nursery School and another as a young teenager in her Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade uniform.
There are also some striking images of the late singer’s grandmother, Cynthia.
Ms Selby explains: “From looking at these photographs you get a sense of a woman who is very glamorous and who has a strong sense of herself – and that is something Amy was very inspired by.”
She adds: “What this exhibition shows is that Amy was very nostalgic, not just for music and fashion, but also her family. She would constantly talk about family and people from her past, almost as if she had been there, and you get a sense that she had a very strong awareness of her roots – even as a young teenager.”
Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait runs until 15 September at The Jewish Museum, Raymond Burton House, Albert Street, London. Details: www.jewishmuseum.org.uk or 020 7284 7384.