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Image: Amy Winehouse, Adele
Reuters file; Getty Images file
Amy Winehouse, left, may have paved the way for British singers like Adele, right, whose music also dips back into the musical styles of the past.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/25/2011 12:32:12 PM ET 2011-07-25T16:32:12

A brief period existed in the spring of 2007 when Amy Winehouse teetered between chanteuse with a cult following, and international superstar. It was right about the time her game-changing album, “Back to Black” was released, and just before the resulting wildfire of fame engulfed her. 

Steve Kandell, now editor-in-chief of Spin, interviewed her at a New York hotel right around that time. “We did a cover story,” he said, “but at the time she hadn’t really begun to get her head around why people wanted to talk to her.”

Since then, Winehouse — who was found dead Saturday in her London flat — left a personal and professional maelstrom in her wake. She had issues with addiction and odd, unpredictable behavior. And the deterioration of her life resulted in a disappointing output of music considering the promise that “Back to Black” — her second and final studio album — hinted at.

Slideshow: Amy Winehouse's troubled life (on this page)
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But she made it OK for artists to dip back into the past, dust off old soulful stylings, and reinvent them for a new generation. “You can definitely say there was a direct line from her to Adele,” Kandell said. “Adele doesn’t have the same kind of baggage. But like Amy Winehouse she’s a throwback, singing soulfully about their lives. They’re not packaged stars. They’re real, they’re human.”

Story: Adele: Winehouse didn't realize her genius

Winehouse bequeathed a complicated legacy. Her many missteps are well-chronicled, and often the tabloid items and cracks from late-night comedians seemed to mute her music.

But she had that burst of creative electricity that comes along once every other blue moon, and which causes music fans to sit up straight.

Video: Singer Winehouse dead at 27 (on this page)

“She achieved a level of emotional intensity in her music that may be unrivaled in her generation,” said Ann Powers, music critic for National Public Radio. “She did so at a cost — her belief in extremes reinforced her worst tendencies. And at times — especially when she was not in control of her performances — she courted caricature.”

After “Back to Black,” which contained such hit singles as “Rehab,” “You Know I’m No Good” and “Tears Dry On Their Own,” Winehouse was suddenly a trendsetter, even though that particular trend had its origins in girl groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s. In truth, she was more like a trend re-setter.

“Immediately in her wake, there was this whole rash of signings of artists like her,” Kandell recalled, “throwback artists who could just plain sing. That’s another thing with her: She was also an incredible songwriter. People responded so quickly to that. There was sheer honesty. ‘Rehab’ was not a song someone else wrote, or something that someone at a label put together. It was about her life, and it sounded like it.”

Story: Fans snap up Winehouse albums after singer's death

John Hartmann teaches a music business class at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California. The one-time record company executive and manager has worked with acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash, America, Poco and many others.

He said he could see the special nature of Winehouse’s work because he had seen it before. “As a student of that style of music, I recognize its roots,” he said. “It’s deep and rich and solid. I think if you go into all the great genres of music historically none of them have disappeared. If you look at pop as a phenomenon, it’s always a replication of something before it.

“The ability to interpret with grace and talent is as important as the initial song. I always regarded her as a magnificent interpreter of songs because she brought forth the true emotions that that kind of music called for. She was an original because she picked up a long-dormant style and made it her own.”

Hartmann is also no stranger to self-destructive behavior, having witnessed his fill of it during his heyday as a manager.

“I managed some great artists when drugs were more of a fuel than a tool,” he explained. “I saw a lot of great music that was never born because of the abuse of drugs. I’m sad for her. I wish I was her manager and could have sat her in a room and explain how it all works.”

Kandell said that when Winehouse’s career took off she didn’t keep people around her who might have insisted she seek help. Hartmann understands that dynamic all too well and said the key is to keep stars grounded.

Story: Winehouse was more than 'Rehab' caricature

“You have to constantly challenge them,” he said of artists. “It’s about not allowing them to believe the myth about themselves.

“Fame is a drug. It’s highly addictive. Unfortunately, too, it comes with a lot of delusion.”

Winehouse’s library consists of only two studio albums, 2003’s “Frank,” which received a great deal of critical acclaim in the U.K., and “Back to Black,” for which she won five Grammys. “Back to Black” was certified five times platinum, and was the best-selling album of 2007.

“I think ‘Back to Black’ is one of those albums, like Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon,’ that touched on such deep emotion that it forms a huge legacy unto itself,” said NPR’s Powers. “And it is obvious that some of pop’s brightest young stars have stepped into the space Winehouse’s addiction, sadly, left open.”

Indeed, the success of “Black to Black” created a pathway for other female artists with original voices, including Duffy, Eliza Doolittle, Rumer and Ellie.

Singer-songwriter Miranda Lee Richards counts herself as an admirer of Winehouse’s music, and added that the sheer quality of Winehouse's voice is often overlooked in her success.

Story: Amy Winehouse: 'I'll be dead in a ditch, on fire'

“Her vocal talent transcended any kind of style,” Richards said. “That’s what great artists do. Even when there is a rash of artists doing the same thing, someone like her stands out because of her extraordinary voice.”

Even Lady Gaga gave Winehouse credit for paving the way. She told AOL in a 2009 interview: “I will always have a very deep love for Amy Winehouse. Because of Amy, very strange girls like me go to prom with very good-looking guys. She’s a different kind of woman. I don’t believe that what I do is very digestible, and somehow Amy was the flu for pop music. And everybody got a little bit of the flu and got over it, and fell in love with Amy Winehouse. And now, when more flu comes along, it’s not so unbearable.”

Although it is a painfully obvious point of discussion in circumstances such as these, it is also unavoidable: Because Winehouse has joined that dubious club of young music stars who met their end at the age of 27 — Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain among the most famous — will she be remembered more for her personal excesses, or her music?

Story: Winehouse just latest musician to die at 27

“Well, the honest answer here is ‘I don’t know,’” said Steven Hyden, music editor for the pop culture web site A.V. Club. “But looking at the other artists, I think the tragic part of the story is always part of the legacy. If Jim Morrison lived on in obscurity in Paris instead of dying in a bathtub when he was 27, I’m not sure we’d see his face on so many posters and T-shirts like we do today. His death is part of his legend. It’s an old story. The upside is that we remember the music.”

Hyden predicts a similar outcome in regard to Winehouse.

Story: Tony Bennett calls Winehouse 'extraordinary'

“She’s something of a one-album wonder,” he said. “ ‘Back to Black' is a great record, but it’s been forgotten as Winehouse’s career hit the skids in recent years. If there’s a small silver lining to this tragedy, it’s that people are starting to remember this wonderful music again.”

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to Today.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVentre44.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Amy Winehouse

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  1. Father's farewell

    Mitch Winehouse, the father of the late British singer Amy Winehouse, arrives at Golders Green Crematorium in London for a ceremony for his daughter on Tuesday, July 26.

    Amy Winehouse died at her London home on Saturday, July 23, at the age of 27. The cause of death has not yet been determined. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Remembering a friend

    Winehouse friend Kelly Osbourne, sporting a beehive style hairdo in tribute to the deceased singer, leaves after a cremation ceremony in London on Tuesday, July 26. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Always a story

    Photographers angle for a shot of guests at the ceremony for Winehouse outside the Golders Green Crematorium in London on July 26. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fade to 'Black'

    Mark Ronson leaves the cremation of Winehouse in London on July 26. The music producer worked on Winehouse's smash album "Back to Black." (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A family mourns

    Amy Winehouse's father, Mitch; brother Alex; former boyfriend Reg Traviss and mother Janis look at memorabilia left by fans of the singer outside of her London flat on Monday, July 25. Mitch Winehouse thanked admirers of his daughter for showing their support, saying "it means so much to me and my family." (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Showered with flowers

    A mourner adds to the floral tributes outside Winehouse's home in London on Sunday, July 24. (Danny Martindale / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sharing sorrow

    Fans gather outside Winehouse's home on Sunday, July 24. (Kerim Okten / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Leaving tributes

    Fans place flowers and tributes in memory of the singer on Sunday, July 24. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A sad farewell

    Winehouse's body is carried into a private ambulance on Saturday, July 23. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Paying respects

    An Amy Winehouse fan puts a note outside Winehouse's home in London. It reads in part: "Dearest Amy. I'm glad u made it home." (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mourning Winehouse

    British singer and filmmaker Reg Traviss, who reportedly dated Winehouse, looks on as a member of the public passes to lay flowers near the late singer's home. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Final turn in the spotlight

    In this June 18, 2011 file photo, Amy Winehouse performs on stage during her concert in Belgrade, Serbia on June 18, 2011. The singer slurred her way through a set as the crowd of 20,000 booed, then left the stage early while her band played without her to fulfill the contract. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. An early end

    Winehouse performs on stage at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, Britain, on June 28, 2008. (Frantzesco Kangaris / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. In court

    Winehouse arrives at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court north of London on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. The singer pleaded guilty to assaulting a theater manager who asked her to leave a family Christmas show starring Mickey Rooney because she had too much to drink. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Front and center

    Winehouse attends The Q Awards at the Grosvenor House in London on Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The singer's father, Mitch Winehouse, said recently that she had breast-enhancement surgery. On the British TV show "This Morning," he said she looks "absolutely fantastic." (Dave M. Benett / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Back in court

    Winehouse arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London, on Thursday, July 23, 2009. The British singer faces trial for an alleged assault on a woman at a charity ball last September. (Shaun Curry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. For her Blake, incarcerated

    Winehouse arrives at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London on Monday, June 2, 2009, where her husband Blake Fielder-Civil was appearing on charges of perverting the course of justice and assault. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Sip of Winehouse

    Winehouse pauses for a drink while performing for 90,000 spectators on the main stage of the Rock in Rio Lisboa music festival at the Bela Vista Park in Portugal on Friday, May 30, 2009. (Steven Governo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Q&A with police

    Winehouse arrives at Holborn police station after being invited in for questioning on Friday, April 25, 2009, in London. The troubled singer had been accused of assaulting a member of the public during an incident at a pub. (Cate Gillon / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Brit diva

    Winehouse performs at the Brit Awards 2008 in London on Wednesday, Feb. 20. The event is the UK's biggest music awards show. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Grammy success

    Winehouse hugs her mother Janis Winehouse after accepting a Grammy Award at the Riverside Studios for the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony via video link on Feb. 10 in London. Winehouse won five out of her six nominations including record of the year, best new artist, song of the year, pop vocal album and female pop vocal performance. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Blonde having less fun

    Temporarily blond and without her trademark beehive hairdo, Winehouse leaves Snaresbrook Crown Court in London after a hearing for her husband Blake Fielder-Civil on Friday, Jan. 18. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Free to bee

    Winehouse performs at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago on Aug. 5, 2007. The tattooed, beehived soul singer has often had her immense musical talents eclipsed by her struggles off stage. (Brian Kersey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'No, no, no ...'

    Winehouse performs at the Glastonbury music festival, in Pilton, England on June 22, 2007. "Rehab" became the hit song from the British singer's second album, "Back to Black." (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Before their troubles

    Winehouse and husband musician Blake Fielder-Civil arrive at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 3, 2007, in Universal City, Calif. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Bursting onto the scene

    Winehouse arrives at the Earls Court Arena in London for the Brit Awards on Feb. 14, 2007. She won the award for Best British Female Solo Artist. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Understanding addiction

    Actor Russell Brand hugs Winehouse in 2006. Himself a former addict, Brand wrote a touching blog post after Winehouse's death about the struggles of addiction and pleaded for readers to help those in their lives with similar troubles. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pre-bee

    Looking a bit healthier, and without her trademark hairdo and tattoos, Winehouse poses in the pressroom at the annual Nationwide Mercury Music Prize at the Grosvenor House on Sept. 7, 2004 in London. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Life and times of Winehouse

A look at her early musical success, personal stumbles and unexpected death at age 27.

TODAY.com | Link |

Video: Scoop on Winehouse's legacy

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