CMT duets with Williams on tornado benefit

Country music stars pitch in to help victims

For Brian Philips, prexy of cabler CMT, it was an email from a viewer that really drove home the magnitude of the destruction caused by the tornadoes that ravaged Alabama, Tennessee and other states late last month.

The message came from Josh Weatherly, from Hackleburg, Ala., a city that CMT proclaimed as the best small town in America in a special that aired a few years ago.

“He wrote ‘The town you portrayed on television is completely gone. The town you made famous has been reduced to nothing — it’s like a nuclear blast has hit it,’ ” Philips says.

The CMT press department had also been getting viewer emails asking the Viacom-owned cabler to help spread the word about the disaster that killed more than 300 people in six states. A number of those who wrote were angry that the major news nets were spending more time covering the royal wedding in London and then the death of Osama bin Laden than on the suffering in the heartland.

Philips and his team at the Nashville-based cabler were working on ideas for raising awareness and funds when a call came from Hank Williams Jr. In a matter of days, Williams and CMT had pulled together a 90-minute concert special that will air live at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday. Country music stars set to appear include Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Sara Evans, Alabama and Ronnie Dunn. The cause was especially close to Williams’ heart because he has a home in Troy, Ala.

Philips says he’s confident that more musicians will join the cause this week. Proceeds from the special will benefit the American Red Cross’ relief efforts in the hard-hit areas.

“The artists know the towns and regions, they have fans there, (and) it’s just in the nature of these stars to help,” Philips says.

CMT will make the special available for simulcast free of charge to other media outlets. Disaster aid