Before she died last year at age 27, Amy Winehouse told her family that she wanted to one day open a music school in St. Lucia, preserve jazz culture in New Orleans, and help heal children globally through the power of music. Her father, Mitch Winehouse, who has headed the U.K.-based Amy Winehouse Foundation since its inception nine months ago, pledged to grant all three wishes during last night’s U.S. launch in New York.
The stage at Joe’s Pub served as a fitting venue for the announcement: it was this intimate East Village club that hosted the late singer’s American debut in January 2007, two months before Back to Black was released here.
“Unfortunately, Amy was not the biggest believer in rehab, and she thought that she could do it herself,” her brother, Alex Winehouse, 32, told the group of foundation directors and guests. He said the family last saw Amy alive when they took her to a treatment facility in London last year. She died from alcohol poisoning in July.
“Only one person was responsible, and that’s Amy,” Mitch Winehouse told Rolling Stone following the event, during which he sang a few numbers backed by a five-piece jazz band. “She came from the most loving family, and that didn’t protect her from her addictions. It can affect anybody. And I want to get that message across.”
Mitch Winehouse, a former cab driver in London, now dedicates his time to the foundation, which has raised one million pounds for U.K.-based children’s hospices. Its newly announced U.S. arm will lend support to music therapy and after-school programs for disadvantaged children, he explained.
Last night the foundation made its first U.S. pledge: $10,000 to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. “We feel that if you put a musical instrument in somebody’s hand, they’re never going to put a gun in their hands,” Winehouse said.
Amy’s mother, Janis Winehouse-Collins, attended the event and stood by her former husband as he unveiled the title and cover of his forthcoming memoir, Amy, My Daughter, due through HarperCollins on June 26th. Sales will benefit the foundation; recent reports value Amy Winehouse’s estate at more than $4 million.
Monte Lipman, president and CEO of Universal Republic Records, home to artists including Jack Johnson and Florence and the Machine, recalled spending time backstage with Winehouse following that first U.S. show at Joe’s Pub. “She was unlike any other artist we had ever seen,” he told Rolling Stone. “Here’s an artist that just had the absolute opposite approach to things. And we loved it.”
The foundation also announced its first Amy Winehouse Inspiration Awards and Gala, which will feature performances in her honor on September 10 at the Waldorf Astoria. Tony Bennett is expected to perform, a source familiar with the gala plans told Rolling Stone, adding that Adele and Coldplay are among those being courted.