NEW YORK (AP) – With no words, simply photos of Haiti’s desperate citizens as a backdrop, the all-star, international “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon began on Friday night, as Alicia Keys called for the help of angels in somber tune.
She set the tone for the evening, as grim-faced celebrities and musicians with mournful songs urged viewers to open their wallets to prevent the already impoverished nation from falling into further catastrophe.
“Can you send me an angel to guide me?” Keys sang in the evening’s first performance, from her song “Prelude to a Kiss.” There was no audience or applause, allowing the moment to sink in for the millions expected to watch.
“The Haitian people need our help,” said George Clooney, who helped organize the two-hour telecast. “They need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that we still care.”
Then, after an impassioned plea from Halle Berry, Bruce Springsteen dedicated a song for Haiti – “We Shall Overcome.”
Since Haiti suffered the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 that killed more than 200,000 people, the entertainment world has responded with an outpouring of charity, from million dollar donations to songs designed to raise money for relief.
On Friday night, those efforts became collective as the biggest celebrities from music, film, sports and even politics joined together for the telethon. Stars like Mel Gibson and Reese Witherspoon manned telephone lines while CNN’s Anderson Cooper gave reports about the grim situation from Haiti. Heartbreaking video showed Haitians buried in rubble and badly injured, with tears and overwhelming sorrow etched on their faces.
Mickelson Civil, a Haitian filmmaker, fought back tears as he talked about relatives who died and those who are barely surviving: “The survivors shouldn’t have to go hungry or be afraid now,” he said.
Musician and producer Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti, made one of the more personal celebrity appeals of the evening, speaking of his experience after witnessing the torment of the nation first hand.
“I carried bodies of my people in the cemetery. They should have been walking,” he said. “Instead they were heavy in my arms. … Right now we can see the second wave of the disaster coming … We have to make sure that the second wave never makes it to Haiti.”
Jean ended his comments with a message directly to the Haitian people, in Creole. Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation is one of the groups that will benefit from the evening’s donations; Jean had come under criticism for the spending practices of the foundation, and before the telethon Friday announced a new accounting firm to handle the group’s finances after acknowledging past mistakes.
The telethon was broadcast from New York, London, Los Angeles and Haiti, and was featured on all the major networks and channels. It was also streamed live on sites like YouTube and MySpace.
Haitians were able to listen on Radio One Haiti.
Leonardo DiCaprio was among those celebrities who urged viewers to donate; on Thursday, he joined the list of previous celebrities donors with a $1 million gift to The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, one of several organizations that will benefit from the telethon.
People were able to start donating even before the telethon at a newly established Web site, and also through text or telephone. Viewers will also be able to 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.
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