In 2009, she won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album for Rockferry, and she was nominated for two other Grammy awards. In 2009 she won three BRIT Awards, British Breakthrough, Best Female Solo and Best British Album.
Duffy began recording sessions for her second album in January 2010.
Duffy was born in Bangor, Gwynedd and raised in Nefyn on the Llŷn Peninsula, in Gwynedd, North Wales, with her twin sister, Katy Ann, and older sister Kelly. She grew up speaking Welsh as her mother tongue. Duffy's parents divorced when she was ten and she moved to Pembrokeshire with her mother and sisters. She dropped her first name, Aimée, calling herself Duffy both professionally and personally.
Duffy's early introduction to soul music and inspiration to get into the music industry occurred while watching Whoopi Goldberg's performance in the movie Sister Act. It is known that Duffy did not hold a large record collection in her youth, instead being inspired by her father's videotapes of the 1960s television rock show, Ready Steady Go! Duffy was interested in music from an early age, beginning to sing at age six, carrying a notebook in which she filled with scribbled lyrics. Despite this, she was later asked to leave her school choir because her voice was "too big" and she "didn't fit in."
In 1998 (aged thirteen), Duffy was briefly put in a police safe house when authorities uncovered a plot by her stepfather's ex-wife to pay a hitman £3000 to kill her stepfather, identified as Philip Smith. Smith's ex-wife, Dawn Watson, was sentenced to a 3½ year jail term for soliciting to murder. "I was so terrified. I felt so ill", Duffy recounted in 2008, as reported by the NME magazine and The Sun. A 1998 article in the Daily Mirror, another British tabloid, quotes a man identified as Philip Smith describing similar circumstances, though the stepdaughter's name is spelled Aimy — not Aimée — and the surname Duffy is not mentioned. Duffy describes living in the safe house as a dog eat dog, claustrophobic and isolating experience. At age fifteen she ran away back to her father's house in Nefyn. Duffy said in retrospect, "It was a horrendous thing to do". Her mother and her sisters did not speak to her for about a year afterwards.
Duffy has admitted to smoking "not just cigarettes" during her teenage years, at a time when she was "quite mischievous" and always looking for trouble. She says that these activities with friends occurred as a result of boredom. Duffy cites the effects of her stepfather's ex-wife's alcoholism as well as her desire not to become a "celebrity" as reasons she does not use drugs or alcohol currently. Duffy was elected president of the Students' union at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor in Pwllheli, North Wales before transferring to the University of Chester in England. She was advised by a lecturer to "Go on the dole, love, and become a singer". She also built up a following at Alexander's, a local jazz and blues club, performing with guitarist David Burton from the band The Invisible Wires.
Early career and eventual breakthrough (2004-2008)
After finishing her GCSEs in Pembrokeshire, Duffy returned to Nefyn when she was fifteen, and started singing in various local bands. Duffy then spent a year in Switzerland, collaborating with the writer-producer Soren Mounir, under the name Soulego.
Duffy returned to Wales in 2003 and was invited to appear on Wawffactor, a Welsh television talent show. She was expected to win, but came second to winner Lisa Pedrick. She claims that she was conned into the appearance; later calling it "the unhappiest time in my life." After a re-evaluation she decided to just make music for no other purposes than her own fulfilment.
In 2004, following success on Wawffactor, Duffy recorded a three-song Welsh extended play, titled Aimée Duffy, while working part time in two jobs as waitress and in a fish mongers. It later achieved 2008 Welsh chart success, charting at number-one on the "Siart C2" music chart. Duffy, now in high demand, appeared on Mint Royale's See You in the Morning as a backing singer. Duffy was introduced to Jeanette Lee of Rough Trade Records in August 2004, after singing Richard J. Parfitt's "Oh Boy". Lee moved Duffy to Crouch End in London, orchestrating a meeting between Duffy and Suede's ex-guitar player Bernard Butler. After Butler had given Duffy a soul music "education" by downloading tracks on to her iPod that she could listen to while around London or travelling back to Wales, the pair co-wrote with her and helped create a new retro sound. The tracks included Al Green, Bettye Swann, Ann Peebles, Doris Duke, Scott Walker, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach. Duffy was quoted as saying Bettye Swann "is one of my biggest inspirations" particularly her song "Cover Me" because "it marks the time I got interested in physical contact. I was 19, and here was a woman singing "Cover me, spread your precious love all over me". It's very tender, but it's also, hilariously, quite crude".
Duffy was contracted to A&M Records on 23 November 2007. She performed on the BBC Two television show Later with Jools Holland, which resulted in a second appearance on the related broadcast Hootenanny, where Duffy performed with Eddie Floyd. On 22 February 2008, she appeared on Later with Jools Holland for a third time and performed "Rockferry", "Mercy", and "Stepping Stone", in promotion of her debut album, also to be titled, Rockferry. Duffy also made appearances on the BBC Two television programme The Culture Show on 23 February 2008, performing "Mercy". In January 2008, Duffy came second to Adele in the annual BBC News Online poll of industry experts Sound of 2008, for acts to emerge in the coming year. In Wales, following Duffy's recent promotion of her music, Aimée Duffy reached number-one on the "Siart C2" music chart.
By 2007, Duffy was finalizing her debut album effort, to be titled Rockferry, after Rock Ferry, where Duffy's grandmother lives. The first single from the album, also titled "Rockferry" was critically well-received with Allmusic calling it a "grand, sweeping ballad".
Butler and his musical partner David McAlmont, and a number of other musicians formed the backbone of Duffy's band for her debut album, Rockferry, which was released on Polydor Records on 3 March 2008. The black and white album art and video for the title track were shot by directors Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull, on and around the Ffestiniog Railway in Porthmadog, which was renamed 'Rockferry' for the occasion. According to Duffy, "The album took nearly four years to make. We had to hire cheap, tiny studios and sometimes there would be three-week periods between writing and recording." Bernard Butler, who was not initially paid, produced four songs for the album, including the single, "Rockferry". The singles "Mercy" and "Stepping Stone", were co-written & produced by Steve Booker, and the second single "Warwick Avenue", by Jimmy Hogarth and Eg White. Duffy released the debut limited edition single "Rockferry" in November 2007 followed by the Steve Booker co-written & produced single, "Mercy", which went straight to number one. "Mercy" was the last song written for the album. The single was physically released on 25 February 2008.
She revealed that both "Mercy" and "Stepping Stone" are autobiographical; "Mercy" is about "sexual liberty" and "not doing something somebody else wants you to do", and "Stepping Stone" is about not expressing her feelings to a person she fell in love with. "Warwick Avenue" was the second single released from the album. The song occurred when Duffy then 19 years old was familiarizing herself with the London Underground and accidentally found herself at the Warwick Avenue station. The following day the song "just sort of came out". At first the video for the song was meant to be an elaborate production but ended up a tearful head shot in a taxi cab with Duffy's mascara smudging. Duffy has said "That's as close as I'm ever going to get to doing a performance that's real in a video."
By May, "Mercy" was a staple on VH1 and a hot Adult Contemporary radio hit and had been featured in the season finale of the American television medical drama Grey's Anatomy as well as being on the soundtrack album for Sex and the City: The Movie. A remix of "Mercy", featuring rap artist The Game, was released on 10 May. On 13 May Rockferry was released in the United States to positive reviews. Because of its cheap production values the album is reaping Duffy substantial financial benefits. Despite her album's success in the United States Duffy was quoted as saying “I don’t like how big American stars consider themselves an exception from humanity".
In November 2008, the single Rain On Your Parade was released. The song was co-written & produced by Steve Booker. The song was first released on download sales only on 10 November 2008 before being released physically on 17 November 2008. Duffy describes this song as "a big, disco-y dance song". The song entered the UK Singles Chart at number twenty-two before rising to a peak of fifteen the following week. The track was included on the deluxe edition of Rockferry.
At the 2008 MOJO Awards, Duffy won the "Song of the Year" award for "Mercy" and was nominated also for "Album of the Year" and "Breakthrough Act". These three nominations were the largest number of nominations for any one act. She also received a 2008 Q Award in the category of Breakthrough Act, a nomination for the Q category of Best Track for "Mercy", a Music of Black Origin Award nomination for Best UK Female. At the MTV Europe Music Awards, she received three nominations in the categories of Album of the Year,Most Addictive Track, and New Act. She performed at the EMA show.
At the 51st Grammy Awards held in February 2009, Duffy won a Grammy Award in the category of Best Pop Vocal Album for Rockferry. Earlier she had been nominated for awards in the categories of Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her single "Mercy".
Duffy equalled Coldplay with four 2009 Brit Awards nominations. She eventually won three awards, including Best Album for Rockferry, one behind the record held by Blur for the most won in one night. "I cannot tell you what this means after five years of hard work," said the singer. At the awards ceremony she performed "Warwick Avenue". Record producers & songwriters Steve Booker & Bernard Butler gained awards for their work on the Rockferry album. She shared a 2009 Ivor Novello Award in the category "Most Performed Work" with Steve Booker for their work on Mercy. Songwriter Eg White won the award for "Songwriter of the Year" in part for Warwick Avenue which he co wrote with Duffy. "Mercy" was played on United States radio and television more the 3 million times earning Duffy a 2009 Broadcast Music Incorporated award.
Duffy and Bernard Butler wrote the song Smoke Without Fire which Duffy sings over the closing titles of the 2009 British film "An Education".
The album has been nominated for the Album of 30 Years catagory to be presented at the 2010 Brit Awards.
As of 12 January 2010 Duffy had begun recording sessions for her second album in New York City. The sessions were scheduled to last three weeks. The album is scheduled for release sometime in 2010. Hip hop drummer Questlove a member of The Roots and Albert Hammond who had a string of 1970's hits are contributing songwriting and production ideas for the project. A source told Billboard that the early material "feels like it was born in 1963" and sounded similar to Rockferry. In late January 2010, Duffy ended her management relationship with Jeanette Lee, choosing instead to manage herself.
Comparisons with others
Under the sub-title, "The New Amys", Adam Thompson wrote in The Times on 30 December 2007 that "Duffy, Gabriella Cilmi and Adele lead the charge to be the next Winehouse. First sightings seem to indicate that they are all bright-eyed innocents with bags of talent — a familiar starting point, no?" Duffy herself dislikes being referred to as "the new Dusty Springfield". She said at first she did not understand the comparisons to Springfield and believes the comparisons with others or putting her in a movement is "a gimmick" and noted that "nobody is replaceable". Singer-songwriter Alison Goldfrapp said while Duffy has a great voice, she was trained to sound essentially like Amy Winehouse as part of a business plan, mistakenly believing that Duffy had attended the Brit School. Noel Gallagher of Oasis has a similar perspective. By 2009 people had stopped referring to Duffy as the "New Amy" or "New Dusty" a prospect that is a "bit more frightening because before I had certain references but now it's just me on my own".
British singer Estelle said that she does not agree with those who describe Duffy and Adele as soul singers but that she is happy that they have been successful. In North America, Duffy is seen as part of a recent wave of British singers or "British invaders" consisting of females with a unique take on writing and performing songs. Motown has been seen as an influence in this wave.
On 1 February 2009 The Times Encyclopedia of modern music named her album Rockferry an "Essential" Blue Eyed Soul recording. Albums by Amy Winehouse and Adele were also named as essential Blue Eyed Soul recordings in the "recent" category.