When the coronavirus lockdown began in March, WME partner Richard Weitz found himself stuck like so many parents trying to find a way to celebrate his daughter 17th birthday amid the onset of quarantine conditions.
Weitz, a lifelong music buff, called a piano player friend from Chicago to serenade Demi and a group of her friends via a Zoom call. On the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” Demi and Richard Weitz explain how that birthday videoconference call birthed the “Quarantunes” concert franchise that has raised $6.7 million for a range of coronavirus-related charities, including the Saban Free Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Team Rubicon, the American Cancer Society and Nashville’s Vanderbilt Medical Center.
The pair discuss the spark for the fundraising effort, hurdles they overcame to make sure the private Zoom performances didn’t infringe on copyrights and how they recruited partners such as Goldman Sachs and Alliance Bernstein to help drive big-dollar donations.
“This was in the beginning when everyone was scared,” Richard Weitz said. “This was about building community and trying to help people and their state of mind.”
After the first effort, Richard Weitz immediately became ambitious and soon the likes of John Mayer, Josh Groban, Andra Day, Charlie Puth, Michael Bolton and Boy George were on the call taking turns doing numbers for a list of 500 or so invitation-only guests. Randy Newman came on to play “I Love L.A.” for Mayor Eric Garcetti. Soon legendary music industry mogul Clive Davis was in the mix, telling a yarn about signing the promising duo of Simon and Garfunkel.
As naturally as her father fell into the role of producing Zoom-casts, Demi Weitz fell into the role of co-host interviewing the likes of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, civic and industry leaders. It was the younger Weitz who had the inspiration to add a charitable component to the sessions early on. She decided to set a Go Fund Me goal of raising $10,000 for the Saban Free Clinic, where her father serves as president of its fundraising arm. Ever the dealmaker, Richard Weitz told his co-host to up the ante to $30,000. Within 24 hours of the Zoom-cast, they’d banked $48,000.
“I thought I was dreaming when I said ‘We’re going to raise $10,000,’ ” Demi Weitz said. “I just wanted to do something good.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.