Stars unite to help devastated Haiti in international, multi-network telethon

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Stars unite to help Haiti in telethon

NEW YORK — Though the all-star telethon was titled “Hope for Haiti Now,” for most of its two hours, it was filled with tear-jerking, depressing moments, from mournful songs and grim-faced pleas from celebrities to the suffering faces of the quake-battered victims themselves.

It took Haiti’s own native son to lift Friday evening’s despairing tone to one of hope and even revival.

“Enough of this moping, man, let’s rebuild Haiti, let’s show ‘em how we do it where we come from!” Wyclef Jean, the singer and producer, shouted after singing the downbeat “Rivers of Babylon,” with a Haitian flag around his neck.

He segued into the joyful tune “Yele” with an island beat, as musicians danced around him, singing the refrain: “Earthquake, we see the earth shake, but the soul of the Haitian people will never break!”

Jean showcased the resilient spirit of a nation in the midst of catastrophe. On Jan. 12, a powerful earthquake struck the already impoverished country, killing an estimated 200,000 people, displacing many more and reducing much of Haiti to ruins.

The telethon, shown on all the major networks and streamed live on many Web sites, was quickly put together by George Clooney and MTV Networks, along with the help of others, to raise millions of dollars for the Caribbean country.

The list of participating celebrities rivaled any top awards show: Justin Timberlake, Brad Pitt, former President Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Beyonce, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Halle Berry, and many more. Luminaries like Steven Spielberg worked the phone banks, talking to donors.

“Hey Steven Spielberg, it’s really cool to talk to you,” one woman said to the Academy Award-winning filmmaker.

John Mayer called in a $500,000 donation before the telethon began, according to a representative for MTV. Officials did not have an immediate total for the relief funds raised by the telethon.

Some stars like Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood recounted tragic moments from the quake; others like Denzel Washington offered inspirational words. Most of the musical performances were downcast, emotional songs. John Legend sang “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Kid Rock, Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow sang “Lean On Me.” Beyonce, with Coldplay’s Chris Martin backing her on piano, revised her hit “Halo” with new lyrics: “Haiti we can see your halo, we pray you won’t fade away.”

Madonna provided one of the few upbeat moments with her choir-backed performance of “Like A Prayer.”

Jay-Z, Rihanna and U2’s Bono and The Edge debuted a new song, “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour),” as Jay-Z rapped from London: “When the sky falls, and the earth quakes, we gon’ put this back together, we won’t break.”

The telethon was broadcast from New York, London, Los Angeles and Haiti, where CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed quake victims and anchored news clips of the tragedy.

Haitians were able to listen on Radio One Haiti.

A crowd made up mostly of Haiti’s wealthier elite gathered Friday night at Break Time, one of the only restaurants still open in Port-au-Prince, and one of the only places residents could watch the telethon.

Owner Patrick Alexis said he enjoyed seeing the celebrities but was skeptical the money would get to people who need it.

“It’s easy to do a telethon on behalf of the Haitian people, but who will really get the money? I know my country, I know my people, I know the leaders,” he said.

Rabbel Bertrand, 16, who was heading to New Jersey because his school collapsed, was surprised by the attention being given his country.

“I didn’t realize all those celebrities knew Haiti. When you talk about Haiti, people usually just talk about the bad things,” Bertrand said.

Viewers can purchase performances from the evening on Saturday by way of iTunes for 99 cents, with those proceeds going to relief aid as well.

The telethon won’t be the last major celebrity effort for Haiti; BET plans to hold its own all-star telethon on Feb. 5, with Diddy and Queen Latifah as hosts. It will also be aired on MTV and VH1.


Associated Press writer Mike Melia in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.

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(This version CORRECTS the song title in 10th paragraph.)

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