Looming storm clouds did not keep 200 guests from attending the Amy Winehouse Foundation USA cocktail party, hosted by foundation board member David Hryck on August 10 at his Southampton house. In attendance were Winehouse’s parents, Janis Winehouse Collins and Mitch Winehouse, and their respective spouses. Winehouse’s parents began the foundation in the United Kingdom on September 14, 2011, on what would have been their daughter’s 28th birthday. The foundation supports music education.
A British music star with an international fan base, Winehouse died on July 23, 2011. At the event, Mitch Winehouse performed ballads and was backed up by Dominick Farinacci and his band. A guest commented, “Now I know where Amy got her voice.” Among the guests were public relations maven Catherine Saxton and sex therapist Ruth Westheimer.
I spoke to Mitch Winehouse over the phone after the event. Before his singing career took off, Winehouse worked as a taxi driver. He is still a licensed cabbie; to become a London taxi driver you need to master no fewer than 320 basic routes, 25,000 streets, and about 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest that are located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. It takes the average person between two and four years to learn them all. “All my family members were cab drivers,” he said. “Even today, it is a wonderful job — better than a New York driver. When my father became a taxi driver in 1958, he came home and said to my mother: ‘Do you know how much I have earned today? Seven pounds.’ That’s $10. Nobody earned that much money. A bank manager earned 20 pounds a week.” He added, with a chuckle, “My mother’s response was, ‘We can eat smoked salmon today.’”
Mitch Winehouse recently wrote a book about his daughter, called, befittingly, “My Daughter.” He talked about the foundation: “In the U.K. we support childrens’ hospices, [the] homeless. We are helping to build a new children’s hospital in North London. In the U.S. we have two projects — one in New Orleans, where we have a weekend after-school program, and another at the Brooklyn Conservatory [of Music.] ”
Remembering Hal David
I first met lyricist extraordinaire Hal David — who died at 91 on September 1 — in 1983 at a Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was the first of more than a dozen such galas I attended where Hal David was an ever-smiling heymish presence. He was introduced to me by Sammy Cahn, whom I would later interview for the Forward in 1984, and in whose name the SHOF Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award was established.
At the 2004 SHOF dinner at the Mariott Marquis, David, chairman and CEO of SHOF, received the “Towering Song Award” for his hit [with Burt Bacharach] “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Dionne Warwick sang it that night. “The song is an expression of our soul,” David told the nearly 1000 guests. “It tells of our struggles and experiences.” That night, during our pre-award reception chat, David told me, “My father read the Forward.” At the 2009 SHOF VIP reception honoring Stephen Schwartz and recipient of the Hal David Starlight Award Jason Mraz, David warmly greeted me. “Here she comes — the Forward lady,” he said.
At the June 15, 2006, SHOF award ceremony dinner Hal David declared: “Our songs are the mirror of our lives. Songs are employed in the fight against injustice and intolerance.”
That evening Alicia Keys presented the Hal David Starlight Award to John Mayer, who won a Grammy for his 2004 song “Daughters.” Keys said: “Any man who writes a song titled ‘Daughters’ is a real man to me.”