I can still remember the first time I heard Amy Winehouse sing. She was sound-checking for a TV show I was producing for Channel 4 in the UK, and it was to be her debut appearance. There she was: no make-up, wearing sloppy oversized white t-shirt and black-leggings, absentmindedly strumming a Fender guitar put through a tiny amp in a television studio while lighting engineers and floor-staff hustled around preparing for what would be that night’s filming. And because she was (a) unknown at that stage, and (b) demure, no one had even noticed her walk out onto the floor. There’d been no entourage, no drama; just little Amy Winehouse, shy as you like.
But then, seemingly without effort, she closed her eyes, tilted her head to one side and rolled out the opening line of what was to be her first single, “Stronger Than Me”. And I kid you not, everyone—and everything—just stopped, in sheer disbelief. The entire studio-floor, the control room—all the clanking and banging and cursing you get on set. Zip. And the craziest thing was she didn’t even look like she was trying. In that moment, I knew what people in books meant when they tried to explain hearing Elvis Presley or Mahalia Jackson or Marvin Gaye sing in chapel or around the place. Because some rare souls, it seems, are born blessed with the kind of voice to make you believe.