“I’m sitting around in my dry house and seeing everything happening on television and I’m overwhelmed by compassion,” Bun B (real name: Bernard Freeman) tells Variety. “There was no way I could sit in this comfortable space when I know what people are going through.”
Of course, when a natural catastrophe of Harvey’s magnitude hits a major metropolitan city, it’s hard to know where to start. So Bun thought of the one person with reach so wide on social media (he just crossed the 100 million followers mark on Twitter) and an appeal so broad that people would have to listen: Justin Bieber.
The pie-in-the-sky ask to Bieber’s longtime manager Scooter Braun quickly morphed into the Hand in Hand Hurricane Harvey telethon, to be held Tuesday night and broadcast live on multiple networks (ABC, CBS, CMT, Fox, and NBC), Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Some 60-plus celebrities are scheduled to participate, and Braun says there will be “multiple performances,” stars answering the phones, and human interest stories that “are truly inspiring. We’re trying to make it a very powerful hour,” he adds.
“God bless Scooter for hearing me out originally and wanting to be involved — putting his own time in and getting others to contribute all their services and resources for free,” says Bun. “It’s been mind blowing to see something that I came up with just out of my humanity and compassion after seeing the people and how dire their conditions are. … It takes effort and the will to want to help people. I’m trying to lead by example.”
“We ran with it,” says Braun, who’s had some practice putting together massive, charity-driven, unifying events like June’s One Love Manchester concert in the U.K. “Whenever I get tired, I just call Bun and get inspired all over again.”
Hand in Hand will broadcast from four locations — New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville, and San Antonio (where country icon George Strait will perform) — and feature appearances and messages from George Clooney, Beyoncé, Matthew McConaughey, Norah O’Donnell, Dennis Quaid, Julia Roberts, Adam Sandler, Ryan Seacrest, Michael Strahan, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon, among others. No word yet on whether Kanye West, a management client of Braun’s SB Projects, will make an appearance.
Bun B is a former member of rap duo UGK, who had multiple releases in the 1990s and 2000s, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2007 with the album “Underground Kingz.” As a longtime resident of the area, he’s seen friends, associates and even fans impacted in ways he never imagined. He’s concerned for the children scarred by fear, for a distant relative who is handicapped and swears off ever returning to the place he’s called home for decades, and for the neighborhood he grew up in, where former students of the high school Bun attended were now sleeping in the school’s gym on cots. He saw it all first hand.
“These are the communities that are under-served in the best weather on a day-to-day basis. We know that they’ll be hit hardest and they’ll be the ones that are the hardest to recover and rebuild. And I know these communities. These are friends who I shared beautiful high school and life memories with, so to see theyir entire lives laid out on their front lawn — it’s heartbreaking and overwhelming.”
“The whole point [of the telethon] is to raise money for charities that are on the ground and are actually making a difference,” says Braun. “I think a lot people want to take action because they’re frustrated. If there’s an opportunity to do something, and you can, I think you should.”
Adds Bun: “The feeling of doing a good deed for people is better than the comfort of your living room.”