The Amy Winehouse Foundation's Gala and Inspiration Awards on Thursday at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York featured honoree Tony Bennett, performer Jennifer Hudson and a guest list including Sean Lennon, Mark Ronson and Harry Belafonte. Yet Winehouse's father, Mitch, had someone else in mind when he took the stage.
"The person I'd like to thank the most is Amy," he said. "We just formalized it by calling it the Amy Winehouse Foundation. She started this long before."
Before Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning at 27, she had avoided drugs for two years and nine months, her father said. The foundation, founded in England just weeks after her death in 2011, steers young musicians from engaging in such abuse.
"All good performers are really nervous before they perform," Bennett told Rolling Stone of Winehouse's final recording session, their Grammy-winning duet "Body and Soul." "I calmed her down by telling her that I liked Dinah Washington. So we hit it off, and then it fell in."
Every Saturday, 19 students head to the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music for six hours of instruction at the Teen Jazz Program. It's a course that exists because of a $25,000 grant from the Winehouse foundation earlier this year. That tuition represents the charity's latest U.S.-based pledge toward music education and therapy since Winehouse's parents launched the foundation's American arm last year.
Hudson's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" drew a standing ovation from Bennett, who later performed "Maybe This Time" and "Watch What Happens." Belafonte presented him with the foundation's Lifetime Achievement award; the men, having marched together from Selma to Montgomery this month in 1965, shared a table.
"She was truly the driving force of her creative process," Remi told Rolling Stone after the gala. "She would sing one or two takes, top to bottom – no punches, no Auto-Tune, no tricks."
Table sponsorships at the event ranged from $10,000 to $50,000, and proceeds from a silent auction of artwork featuring Winehouse's likeness are expected to fund U.S.-based education efforts in addition to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music's Teen Jazz Program.
"It's just pride," Winehouse's mother, Janis, told Rolling Stone. "I'm just so proud that it's done and we're able to actually carry it out."