Rappers, Entertainers Unite For Hope for Haiti Now Telethon

The spirit, faith and determination of the people of Haiti stood front and center Friday night as actors, musicians and Haitians united for the Hope for Haiti Now telethon.

The event, which dominated primetime viewing on more than 25 networks, featured an all-star line up of performers, many of whom wore black while pouring emotion into inspirational songs for the telethon. R&B songstress Alicia Keys set the tone early by opening the two-hour show with “Prelude to a Kiss.”

The hip-hop nation was prominently featured in the Hope for Haiti Now telethon, with the Roots backing performers such as Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige in New York. In London, Jay-Z was on hand to debut his new Swizz Beatz-produced collaboration with Rihanna and U2 members Bono and The Edge, “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)”

“Not gonna leave you stranded. Oh no, “ sang Rihanna and Bono as a focused Jay-Z brought home the importance of  helping Haiti rebound from the 7.0 earthquake that has displaced, injured and killed many Haitians since January 12.

"We right by your side/ While we trying to make sense of this/ Heavenly Father/ Help us see through these problems/ For those that's left/ Welcome them into your garden,” the rapper rhymed. "Let's get involved with 'em/Hand in hand with 'em/ Arm and arm with 'em/ Till they get strong again."

"When the sky falls and the earth quakes/ We gonna put this back together/ We won't break," said Jay-Z, who referenced another devastating disaster in Hurricane Katrina and the lesson taken away from that 2005 ordeal in the second verse of “Stranded.”

"We learned from the past/ New Orleans was flooded/ So we know we just can't rely on the government," he said.

While Jay-Z  took the stage in London, Haitian born rapper Wyclef Jean made his case for relief in Haiti in New York. The rapper/producer recalled his personal anguish as he ”carried bodies of my people to the cemetery."

“They should’ve been laughing, singing, said Jean, who mentioned the arrival of a second wave of disaster coming and spoke to his fellow Haitians in Creole who were watching the telethon. “We have to make sure the second wave doesn’t reach Haiti…From the ashes we shall rise, so please give what you can.”

The entertainer returned to the stage to close the show with “Rivers of Babylon.”The somber mood soon turned upbeat as Jean switched gears to end his set with a rousing finale meant to highlight the resiliency of his people.  

“Enough of the mopin’. Let’s rebuild Haiti and show them where we come from,” said Jean, who was introduced by Denzel Washington.  “Earth quake, we seen the earth shake. The soul of the Haitian people will never break.”

Jean’s closing set was among a string of memorable turns from artists who let did not shield their emotions while singing stripped down versions of their chosen songs. Performers included Hudson, (“Let It Be”), Blige (“Hard Times”), John Legend (“Motherless Child”), Stevie Wonder (“A Time to Love”/”Bridge Over Troubled Water”), Madonna (“Like a Prayer”), Shakira (“I’ll Stand by You”); Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock (“Lean On Me); Dave Matthews and Neil Young (“Alone and Forsaken” ), Justin Timberlake  and Matt Morris (“Hallelujah”), Coldplay (“A Message” ), Bruce Springsteen (“We Shall Overcome”), Emeline Michel ("Many Rivers To Cross"), Christina Aguilera (“Lift Me Up”), Sting  (“Driven to Tears”) and Taylor Swift (“Breathless).

During her set, Beyonce altered the lyrics to her hit “Halo” to reference the Haiti ordeal.

"Haiti, we can see your halo/ You know you're my saving grace," the songbird sang. "You're everything I need and more, it's written all over your face/ Haiti, we can see your halo/ I pray you won't fade away."

Jean wasn’t the only person urging viewers to stay motivated in helping his native land.  Throughout  the telethon, more than 100 celebrities put their fame aside to take phone calls and thank contributors for their donations.

Among those manning the phones was Reese Weatherspoon, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams, Colin Farrell, Ringo Star, Taylor Swift, Sandra Bullock, Tobey Macguire and Steven Spielberg.  Like Jean, Roberts and Swift did double duty at the telethon with Swift performing  and Roberts sharing a story about a mother who spent hours digging among the rubble to rescue her child, who was ultimately rescued.

“For 15 hours she refused to give up,” Roberts said.  “Now it’s our turn to not give up.”

Personal stories of earthquake survivors and victims  were the centerpiece of Hope for Haiti Now.  George Clooney, President Bill Clinton, Chris Rock, Muhammad Ali, Halle Berry , Robert Pattinson, Leonardo DiCaprio ,Morgan Freeman,  Nicole Kidman, Ben Stiller, John Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon each conveyed   tales of sacrifice, hope and faith while praising Haitian residents and volunteers for remaining resourceful and motivated in spite of their plight.

The praise was combined with themes of determination, continuous faith and perseverance as the entertainers noted the importance of even the smallest donation in helping rebuilding schools, obtaining much needed medical supplies for life saving surgeries and treating injuries.

The CNN news anchor provided live coverage and updates from Haiti while video footage of the earthquake and its effect on the Haitians played.

This is such an epic disaster. There is so much more for us to do,” said Cooper, who predicted an increase in orphans because of the disaster.

In addition to the actors, Hope for Haiti Now included heartfelt testimonies from Haitians currently living in the United States, urging viewers to continue to help Haiti.

To contribute to the Hope for Haiit telethon, visit hopeforhaitinow.org or call 1-877-99-HAITI. An album featuring live performances from the telethon will be available on iTunes. Proceeds will go to the Yele Haiti Foundation, Clinton Bush Haiti Foundation, the Red Cross, Oxfam America, United Nations World Food Programme, Partners in Health and UNICEF.