‘Hope for Haiti’: Star-studded and solemn


The “Hope for Haititelethon went off without a hitch tonight, with two hours of star musical performances and testimonials supplemented by a squadron of celebrity operators taking pledges.

Funds raised by the telethon, which aired domestically on more than 50 networks (as well as on radio and online) as well as in 60 countries, will not be announced until Monday, according to a spokesperson for telethon co-organizer MTV Networks.

George Clooney, who spearheaded the telethon barely a week ago by initiating a conversation with MTV Networks topper Judy McGrath, kicked off the broadcast with an opening appeal, but then left the program to the bevy of other talent, who performed live in Los Angeles, New York and London. CNN’s Anderson Cooper had by far the greatest presence on the show, appearing numerous times with live updates from Haiti.

The format was consistent: a musical performance would alternate with an celebrity telling an anecdote about the earthquake aftermath, a Cooper segment, and an eavesdrop into a phone conversation between a donor and one of the dozens of celebrity operators such as Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts or Steven Spielberg. Never was the seriousness of the crisis subverted in the name of entertainment.

“Grief is everywhere we look,” comedian Jon Stewart said. “Now the challenge is ours to take the grief and transform it into real and lasting hope for Haiti.

Sting In the first hour, the performances were, almost without fail, solemn and reverent, whether by Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce or the many others.  Sting managed to cut loose more than the rest without sacrificing the tone of the telethon in his performance of the Police song, “Driven to Tears.”

In hour two, Madonna’s choir-backed “Like a Prayer” brought surging emotion, while Jennifer Hudson’s “Let it Be” was also powerful – as was a new song performed by Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna. From the speaker side, perhaps the most poignant moment was when Chris Rock read words written by his onstage companion, a wheelchair-bound Muhammad Ali.

Telethon co-organizer Wyclef Jean followed up his performance, which wrapped up the telethon itself, with a specific list of needs for his native country that he presented on MTV’s post-telethon wrapup show.

“I think there’s an outpouring … of people understanding that as bad as it is for them, it’s nowhere near as bad as (in Haiti),” Clooney told Cooper on CNN after the telethon.

“The biggest issue (we) will have … is keeping this front-page news, three-four-five-six months from now.”

More information on the telethon can be found here, and donations are still being taken at the Hope for Haiti Now website. Musical performances from the telethon will be available for download at iTunes and other online sites, with proceeds going to the Hope for Haiti relief charities.

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