“Jazz was something that was important to Amy, and New Orleans was something that was important to her as well. What happened in Katrina deeply affected her,” Mitch Winehouse says. “Because Amy didn’t know that she was going to pass away, I wouldn’t say it was her last wish to preserve jazz in New Orleans, but I feel that she is pushing me to make it happen.”
On May 6, Mitch Winehouse, father of the late Amy Winehouse, presented New Orleans Jazz Orchestra founders Irvin Mayfield and Ronald Markham with a $10,000 donation on behalf of the Amy Winehouse Foundation (AWF). Less than a month prior, Winehouse marked the AWF’s stateside debut, announcing the pledge during a press conference held at the site of his daughter’s first U.S. performance, New York’s Joe’s Pub.
Mayfield, who currently sits on the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Arts, considers the AWF’s offering a mandate. “For us, it’s a great testament to have someone from outside of New Orleans—let alone outside of the country—see that this music is important to our city and America,” he says. “We know there’s a very large gap between kids and the opportunities to learn [music]. It’s not only about accessibility. There’s something else inside of that when it comes to developing an interest: desire. This city has been built on that desire, and that’s what we need to continue to fuel.”
Currently, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and its sister organization, the New Orleans Jazz Institute, offer the Saturday Morning School, a free, multi-level music instruction program at the University of New Orleans. In early June, they will conduct Project Prodigy, a four-week summer music camp, which also draws support from the Young Leadership Council and the Capital One New Beginnings Charter School Network. “We’re just getting started,” Mayfield says. “We know that there are a lot of groups, a lot of businesses, a lot of non-profits that understand that music is essential and important, especially to New Orleans where it’s so unique.”
“There are thousands of kids here who need opportunities like this,” Winehouse says. “The more people we can convince to invest now, the better New Orleans will be in the future. It’s more than just a music program. It’s a social program.”