NEW YORK (AP) – Dozens of stars turned out to sing, tell stories and plead for support for hurricane victims on Tuesday, in a one-hour televised benefit that had raised $14.5 million by the time cameras were turned off.
With Stevie Wonder singing “Lean on Me” and Usher and Blake Shelton joining for “Stand By Me,” the message was clear: Americans were being asked to help those whose lives were upended by wind and rain.
Justin Bieber, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Lupita Nyong’o, Jay Leno and dozens of others sat at phone banks to accept donations. Beyonce, Will Smith and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sent in taped pleas for support during the event, shown on more than a dozen television networks and online simultaneously.
Originally conceived as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the “Hand in Hand” telethon was expanded to help people in Florida and the Caribbean devastated in recent days by Irma.
“We’re here to raise money, lift some spirits,” said Jamie Foxx, standing with actor Leonardo DiCaprio. “When tough times hit, this is who we are. We’re compassionate. We’re unstoppable.”
The quick-moving show took a form familiar to viewers since a sad template was set in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Celebrities requested donations, told heartwarming survival stories involving people caught in the storm and sang songs. Several organizations will benefit, including the United Way and Save the Children.
Stages in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, Tennessee were filled simultaneously, although the night’s final performance – a tribute to Texans by George Strait, Robert Earl Keen, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert and Lyle Lovett – originated from San Antonio.
“Despacito” singer Luis Fonsi and Tori Kelly sang “Hallelujah” together. Dave Matthews picked his guitar from a studio above Times Square, and Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley, Demi Lovato and Cece Winans sang the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Wonder, backed by a gospel chorus, opened the show with the Bill Withers classic.
“Natural disasters don’t discriminate,” Beyonce said. “They don’t care if you’re an immigrant, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Jewish or Muslim, wealthy or poor.” Cher and Oprah Winfrey told the story behind a frequently-seen picture of strangers forming a human chain to save someone from flooding in Houston.
Usually competitive network morning personalities Matt Lauer, Norah O’Donnell and Michael Strahan stood before a satellite image of an ominous Irma to describe devastation that the storm had caused.
Donations were announced from some deep pockets. Computer maker Michael Dell and his wife Susan pledged to match the first $10 million in donations Tuesday. They’ve given a total of $41 million to the Rebuild Texas Fund. Basketball star Chris Paul gave $20,000 and said the NBA Players Association would match donations of up to the same amount given by any NBA player.
Announcing Apple’s promise to give $5 million, comic Stephen Colbert quipped said it was coincidentally “also the price of the new iPhone.”
Billy Crystal, who gave the $14.5 million tally at the show’s end, said phone lines would be kept open, and viewers could also donate online. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, MTV, BET and Univision were among the networks carrying the program, which was also streamed online.
Houston rap artist Bun B and Hollywood talent manager Scooter Braun organized the event.
Braun said after the show, all the celebrities manning the phone banks stayed to take more calls. “No one left,” he said. “Everyone just kept answering phones and answering phones and answering phones. People want to give. Like, people want to help. And you don’t have to be a celebrity to do it.”
For many of the stars, the storms hit close to home.
“I have family in Puerto Rico, I have family in Miami. I’ve been on the road. I haven’t been able to be there. So you can imagine how it’s been,” Fonsi said after the show, adding that all his family, including his wife and young children in Miami, survived the storm and are safe.
“”Helpless – helpless is an understatement,” Fonsi said of being on tour and unable to be with his family. He noted that his experience paled in comparison to the pain the storms have caused for many.
“You can imagine how frustrating it is to not be able to sort of protect your own family,” he said. “Imagine all of these people that have nothing to do. The videos that you see online. So as an artist, as a singer, I think it’s part of our job, it’s part of our resume, to take time off and come together and do these kind of things.”
This story has been corrected to show that Jamie Foxx appeared with Leonardo DiCaprio on the telethon, not Kevin Hart.
AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report from Los Angeles.