Hope for Haiti: Hollywood stars answer the calls in Haiti telethon

Steven Spielberg, Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon are among those on the phone lines in a bid to raise funds for victims of the earthquake

"Can you send an angel?" sang Alicia Keys, opening the Hope For Haiti tele­thon early yesterday morning with her song Prelude to a Kiss. And then, on cue, George Clooney appeared, the first of a sombre parade of actors and musicians to appeal for donations for the earthquake victims in the Caribbean country.

"The Haitian people need our help," said the actor, who had organised the fundraising concert with Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean. "They need to know they are not alone."

Once again the international stellar community, broadcasting live from New York, London, Los Angeles and Haiti on MTV, YouTube and most major American networks, proved they could work together at short notice to raise funds for an emergency relief operation.

Viewers across the world – this event was aiming for the largest television audience ever – were treated to solo performances from Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Sting, and Chris Martin of Coldplay accompanying Beyoncé on the piano. The R&B superstar's rendition of her song Halo included the altered lyric: "Haiti, we can see your halo/I pray you won't fade away."

The millions who tuned in also had the chance to watch celebrities appearing "as themselves", sitting at banks of desks to take telephone calls from people pledging donations. Steven Spielberg answered the phone to a surprised female pastor who said: "Wow. It's cool to speak to you." "It is cool to speak to you too," the director replied.

Proceeds from the night, thought to amount to hundreds of millions, will be split among the five relief organisations actively operating in Haiti: Oxfam America, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, Unicef and to Jean's own Yéle Haiti foundation. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, set up by the two most recent former American presidents, will benefit, too. International charity concerts are now a central part of boosting aid funds in the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster.

"We obviously can't plan this kind of event, because we never know when a disaster is going to happen, so we rely on stars and performers coming forward quickly," said a British spokeswoman for Oxfam yesterday. "The devastation in Haiti has been so great, though, that we have been amazed by how many have come forward. They arrange events like this telethon when the need is greatest, but I also think high-profile supporters are particularly helpful to us in the second phase of relief fundraising, when the news coverage has died away."

Clooney is now a veteran of such TV fundraisers. He started with America: A Tribute to Heroes, which raised more than $150m (£103m) in the weeks following the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001. Three years later the actor was also behind the Concert of Hope telethon that followed the south Asian tsunami.

Aid For Haiti will be fuelled, too, by the release of a new single from American rapper Jay-Z, Stranded, composed in collaboration with U2 band members Bono and the Edge.

The track was first played on the MTV telethon and also featured Barbadian singer Rihanna.

In Britain, Gordon Brown has waived VAT on the charity single being put together by Simon Cowell for Haiti – a cover version of REM's Everybody Hurts, which will feature stars such as Cheryl Cole, Rod Stewart and Michael Bublé.

In addition to answering phones yesterday, Justin Timberlake sang a version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in a duet with Matt Morris. Many of the world's most popular female singers, including Mary J Blige, Cristina Aguilera, Shakira, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson took part. Sheryl Crow joined Kid Rock and Australian country star Keith Urban for a rendition of Lean on Me.

Powerful personal appeals came from Bill Clinton, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman and Leonardo DiCaprio, one of several stars to donate $1m (£620,000) to the cause.

There were eloquent words from contributors from Haiti, too, from those who had lost relatives or were still stunned that their troubled homeland was facing yet another crisis.

Among the Hollywood stars supporting the appeal were Jack Nicholson, Mel Gibson, Meg Ryan, Ellen Barkin, Tim Robbins, Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, who talked to one caller about the positive energy among the celebrities around her who had gathered to help. Julia Roberts discussed the joys and fears of motherhood with one star-struck donor and said how difficult she found it to see televised images of the children in Haiti who were hurt.

Wearing the Haitian flag around his neck, Wyclef Jean closed the event, singing a few phrases from the reggae classic Rivers of Babylon before delivering a Creole version of his song Yéle, written in the style of the Haitian folk music called racine.

All the telethon performances are available on Apple's iTunes and cash donations can be made at hopeforhaitinow.org.

Oxfam is running a celebrity eBay auction to raise funds, featuring the offer of an exclusive personal song penned by Blur's Damon Albarn for the winning bidder. In London, the Roundhouse performing arts venue has announced a starry fundraising show on Thursday 25 February in support of the aid work of both ActionAid and Médecins Sans Frontières, while poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Poetry Live have invited 20 leading poets to perform at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday to raise money for Haiti.

Contributor

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Haiti could suffer another earthquake, scientists warn
Strains that triggered January shock could unleash new disaster

Robin McKie

30, Oct, 2010 @11:09 PM

Article image
Hollywood stars offer aid to quake-stricken Haiti
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are among stars who have pledged money and time to Haiti relief efforts

Ben Child and agencies

19, Jan, 2010 @1:11 PM

Article image
Six months on, Haiti earthquake victims wait for billions in aid

British charity Save the Children warns that the hurricane season could bring disaster for the thousands of people still left homeless after reconstruction has virtually come to a halt, writes Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

10, Jul, 2010 @11:05 PM

Haiti earthquake: engineers work out how to rebuild capital to withstand future shocks
Construction techniques and practices will have to change

Robin McKie

17, Jan, 2010 @12:06 AM

Hollywood: George Clooney plays peacemaker as strike looms

A-list actors square up as dispute over pay deal threatens shutdown of film and TV studios

Paul Harris in New York

05, Jul, 2008 @11:19 PM

Article image
George Clooney: Why we owe our domestic bliss to ... Boris Johnson
Row over Parthenon marbles deflected attention from secret courtship with wife Amal, star reveals

Vanessa Thorpe and Tom Lamont

13, Dec, 2020 @12:05 AM

Article image
Haiti earthquake: Rock stars donate memorabilia to raise money
Blur fans can bid to have Damon Albarn write, perform and record for them, while a Damien Hirst prototype is also on offer

Alexandra Topping

27, Jan, 2010 @12:37 PM

Article image
Music stars raise £35m in Hope for Haiti telethon
The televised appeal, featuring Madonna, Sting, Rihanna and Shakira, has shattered the record for a disaster-relief telethon, raising more than £35m for victims of the Haiti earthquake

Sean Michaels

25, Jan, 2010 @10:06 AM

Haiti earthquake: facing life after so many deaths
After the immediate horrors of Haiti quake, the survivors are menaced by long-term danger of post-traumatic mental damage

by Tracy McVeigh, Chief Reporter

17, Jan, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
'They lead the life of small gods' - how aid agency failings end in exploitation
Behind the sex parties and scandals in Haiti lies a culture of secrecy and lack of diversity

Emma Graham-Harrison

10, Feb, 2018 @9:19 PM