Lyrics, Lipstick, Legacy: Inside the Grammy Museum's 'Beyond Black: The Style of Amy Winehouse' Exhibit

Amy Winehouse performs in London.
Chris Christoforou/Redferns

Amy Winehouse performs in London.

The Grammy Museum kicked off Grammy week with new exhibit "Beyond Black: The Style of Amy Winehouse" and a moving conversation with curators Naomi Parry, Winehouse’s stylist, and close confidant Catriona Gourlay, whose reminiscences made clear every piece in the collection tells a story about the friend they simply called Amy.

It’s a story that abruptly was cut short in July 2011, when the six-time Grammy-winning artist died at age 27. “For us personally, it was going to take a very long time before we would even consider doing something like this,” Gourlay tells Billboard of the exhibit, which includes articles from her and Parry’s personal collections as well as from the Winehouse estate in collaboration with Winehouse’s father Mitch Winehouse, who provided an abundance of never before seen hand-written lyric sheets and journal pages.

“We just had it all hidden away, and you can’t live having this stuff at home. It should be on display. People should know more about her life. All of her possessions have just been kept as they were and they’ve been there stuck in time and it’s not healthy for anyone,” Gourlay adds. “There’s so much you can talk about what she achieved through these things, and that’s not going to happen if they’re sitting in a locker in north London.”

As such, the first-ever Winehouse exhibit in the US, which runs through April 13, is at once sweeping and deeply intimate. On display is the black Dolce & Gabbana dress she wore in 2008 when she collected five Grammys via satellite because a visa denial prohibited her from entering the U.S. in time for the ceremony. There’s also the halter dress she wore to her last stage performance, in 2011 in Belgrade, and the yellow Preen dress and red leather heart-shaped Moschino purse she donned at the 2007 Brit Awards.

Cathy Applefeld Olson

Particularly poignant are hand-penned notes, including lyrics to songs that got released, including “Cherry,” and one that did not, “Dolly’s Diner,” and a “Fame Ambitions” list whose 14 entries include: “collaborate with Missy Elliott + Timbaland,” “buy a house in South Beach,” and “have people look up to me.”

Winehouse’s style -- the beehive, red lipstick, heavily winged eyeliner and tattoos -- was as signature as her sound, and "Beyond Black" displays the full spectrum of her style evolution, from her early days before the release of her first album Frank in 2003 through the Back to Black era.

It’s a room of vibrancy, meant solely to celebrate her legacy. “Everybody has finally gotten tired of the previous narrative that was negative and focused on her downfalls, and now are much more open to talking about what she achieved and how she influenced people and the impact she had on emerging artists now,” Parry tells Billboard.

Cathy Applefeld Olson

Although Winehouse “dropped some money in Selfridges,” Parry says she believes some of the artist’s accessibility to her fans was that she “didn’t have to be about a big brand, didn’t have to be really expensive. She liked things that cost a couple of quid from the market, and she’d wear them, she wasn’t fussy about it. As we were setting up the exhibit someone asked, ‘Are those earrings as cheap as they look?’ And… yeah they are.” 

Many of the items on display will be auctioned to benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation in November 2021. 

Five revelations from the official "Beyond Black" opening:

  • That iconic blacker than black eyeliner? Drugstore brand Rimmel 

  • Winehouse was deep into horror/noir programming, and would watch titles like Sin City and Planet Terror, on repeat for days

  • She was rarely star-struck but got jazzed about appearing on The Simpsons and meeting Quentin Tarantino 

  • Music Winehouse had on heavy repeat: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and anything by Donny Hathaway 

  • Winehouse had detailed drawings and plans to open a real Dolly’s Diner

2020 Grammy Awards