September 4, 2012 | Joanne Hill –
TORONTO – The parents of the late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse are using the healing power of music to help at-risk youth through the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
“You know, they talk about medicine: singing is the best medicine in the world,” said Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse. “It really makes you feel an awful lot better.”
Mitch Winehouse spoke to the Jewish Tribune by phone from his office in London. The former London taxi driver said he devotes most of his time now to the foundation but manages to squeeze in gigs as a jazz singer in such places as Germany and Ireland.
Amy Winehouse, who shot to worldwide fame in 2006 with the release of her bestselling album, Back to Black, died as a result of binge drinking in July 2011; she was 27. Her struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism, and her destructive relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she married in 2007 and divorced in 2009, provided ample fodder for the tabloid media and often drew attention away from her exceptional musical talent.
Mitch Winehouse’s book, Amy, My Daughter, published this summer, provides a more balanced account of the life and career of his intelligent, creative, strong-willed and self-driven youngest child.
Winehouse’s love for his family, including his ex-wife Janis Winehouse-Collins and their eldest child Alex, is apparent throughout the book but he does not shy away from the more difficult aspects of Amy’s life, nor does he spare Amy or himself from criticism.
“She was such a lovely, warm person and she really was able to find the best in people,” Mitch said. “I remember walking down the street in London with her; Back to Black had come out and she was as big as Adele and Lady Gaga put together, but the way she spoke to people and greeted people was lovely and it made me so proud of her. Apart from her obvious talents, that’s what I really loved about her: she was just such a normal girl with this incredible talent…. Obviously she had lots of problems as well, but even while all that stuff was going on, she was just a smashing kid.”
He added, “We had an incredibly strong bond…. She loved having her family around her; even when, some of the time, we didn’t want to be around her. There weren’t many times like that but clearly there were a few times when it was difficult for us.”
Amy had quit using hard drugs in 2008, her father said, and had begun a gradual process of getting sober before she died unexpectedly.
“She got herself off drugs; how she did it was just incredible. And she was certainly moving in that direction as far as her drinking was concerned. In the last six weeks of her life, five weeks and five days were spent without drinking. That’s a pattern of somebody who’s moving away from drink. So she was getting there.
“She always felt that she could conquer those demons herself. She was a very strong person but…she had great weaknesses, as well, and one of those was her husband, Blake.”
From the stories told in Winehouse’s book, it is clear there was no love lost between Amy’s family and Fielder-Civil, but the bereaved father seems to have come to terms with his former son-in-law’s toxic influence on his daughter’s life.
“I don’t hold any ill will towards Blake now,” said Winehouse. “What’s happened has happened. He admitted that he was responsible for her [using] Class A drugs and I wish him well.”
The Amy Winehouse Foundation was established following the young singer’s death.
“She was a very kind and loving person and she adored children,” said Winehouse. “When Amy passed away, the first thought that came into my head was to create a foundation based around children. The mission statement is to help disadvantaged children and that’s what we’re doing.
“In the UK, we’re supporting children’s hospices; we’re going into schools and talking about the problems surrounding drugs and alcohol; we’re supporting homeless charities and drug rehabilitation charities….
“In the US, we’re working with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra to create some after-school music clubhouses. We also hope to be working in New York with the Brooklyn Conservatory and helping young people with music education.”
To date, the UK branch of the foundation has allocated more than £500,000 to various organizations. Money has been raised through fundraisers and individual and corporation donations, said Winehouse.
All of the proceeds from Amy, My Daughter go straight to the foundation. As well, Universal Music UK donates £1 for every copy sold of Amy’s posthumous album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures.
Amy helped her father produce an album of his own, which was released two years ago and sold well. He said he will be making another album soon with SWR Big Band, a popular swing band from Germany, and those proceeds will also go to the foundation.
According to Mitch, Amy loved the island and people of St. Lucia, and Amy’s mother Janis is now spearheading a foundation project there to benefit its children.
The US branch of the foundation will host the Amy Winehouse Inspiration Awards & Gala on Oct. 11 at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Hip hop icon NAS, legendary singer Tony Bennett and producer and songwriter SaLaAM ReMI will be honoured at the black-tie event, which will raise money for programs in the US.
For more information about the Amy Winehouse Foundation, visit www.amywinehousefoundation.org