Telethons unleash star power for Haiti quake victims

$9 million raised for earthquake relief two hours after 'Canada For Haiti' broadcast, officials say

K'naan, in red, performs "Wavin' Flag" at the Canada For Haiti telethon on Jan. 22, 2010. The show was hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos, Ben Mulroney and Cheryl Hickey.


"The stories of the kids (in Haiti) are going to stick with me for a long time. My son's backstage and I just want to run over and give him a big hug. It rocked me and I'm sure it rocked a lot of people."
– CHERYL HICKEY, host of ET Canada

"It's rare that music gets to be about something other than the music and a good time. It's amazing to be a part of something where you get to use music to witness people give and people care. (Haiti) needs us now."
JAMES SHAW, guitarist, Metric

"When we talk about being leaders in the world, this is what we mean and this is just another way for us to do that. This is a long-term project; it's going to require countries from around the world and we're doing more than our part in an attempt to pull people in the same direction. I'm just privileged to play a small role in that."
– BEN MULRONEY, host of etalk

"Here we have three big networks ... no problem, no argument, no conflict, joining together for the right reasons. So to me, that's a win-win-win and that's pretty smart."
– MIKE HOLMES, home renovator, author and television host

"The fact that all the networks have come together, man, makes this so much better ... This is actually altruistic, there is no competition. You rarely get to do that in television, purely altruistic, commercial-free one hour, everybody working together."

– Compiled by Bruce DeMara

Video: Stars of Canada for Haiti

The sight of celebrities mobilizing around a cause may sometimes inspire distrust, but famous people are human, too: they're as stunned and saddened by what has happened in Haiti as the rest of us.

As the stars took over the major networks last night with a pair of telethons to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief, there was a sombre sincerity to their pleas for cash to help this shattered nation – "a neighbour in need, in desperate need," as Hope For Haiti Now host George Clooney put it – rebuild.

The emphasis, correctly, was on the plight of Haitians, and not on garish musical performances or celebrity spotting.

The tactic seemed to work.

The phone lines were jammed within minutes of Canada For Haiti's 7 p.m. start time across the CBC, CTV and Global networks, and co-host George Stroumboulopoulos stopped the proceedings midway through the show to announce that a single, immensely generous caller had called with a $100,000 donation.

The Canadian broadcast raised $9 million – a figure that Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised during a taped message would be matched, dollar for dollar, by the federal government. Donations will go to nine non-profit groups: the Canadian Red Cross Society, Care Canada, Free the Children, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec, Plan Canada, Save the Children Canada, UNICEF Canada and World Vision Canada. American donations will be similarly divvied up.

Canada For Haiti was considerably less flashy than the globe-straddling Hope For Haiti Now, which brought its live performers together from venues in London, New York and Los Angeles and dangled would-be donors the prospect that Reese Witherspoon or Julia Roberts might actually pick up the phone if they made the call to give.

Our homegrown broadcast, on the other hand, had Strombo, Ben Mulroney and Cheryl Hickey navigating a roomful of Canadian entertainers and athletes, from Geddy Lee to Rachel McAdams to Donovan Bailey who had little to do.

The musical performances weren't exactly smooth. An uncharacteristically off-key K'naan, for instance, was only the first musician to give the impression that none of the musical acts on the show could actually hear themselves playing and singing.

Nevertheless, everyone involved kept things appropriately quiet and respectful of the cause. Nelly Furtado found a poignant opener in "Try," Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric stripped the stadium bluster back from a wounded, piano-and-guitar version of "Help, I'm Alive" and the Tragically Hip struck a genuinely mournful note by resurrecting the Road Apples' weepie "Fiddler's Green" for the occasion.

Most moving, though, was a message from Haitian-born Governor General Michaëlle Jean to her faraway homeland that was carried on Haitian radio.

"I have great hope that we will emerge stronger than ever from this terrible ordeal that has brought us together and has made us work together unrelentingly. I want you to know that all of you are in the hearts and minds of all Canadians," she said from Montreal, where she was attending a vigil for the victims of the earthquake.

"We have this ethic of sharing; we care, Canadians care. From that strong connection, that strong bond that we have with Haiti, we know it has to be a shared responsibility to make sure that we will come out of this ordeal stronger."

Despite its slicker look and international A-list roster, Hope For Haiti Now proved a reasonably modest undertaking, too.

Obviously, it's not hard to pick out Coldplay or Madonna, but it was a notable departure from showbiz practice that performers received no introductions, identifying labels or applause. And, like their Canadian counterparts, the musicians who donated their time and talent to Hope For Haiti Now selected material befitting the serious occasion.

Alicia Keys opened the show by appealing to the angels for help with "Prelude To A Kiss," Bruce Springsteen dedicated a raw version of Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome" to the people of Haiti and Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, and Kid Rock gave an acoustic reading of "Lean On Me." Sting, meanwhile, found renewed resonance in the Bring On the Night-era chestnut "Driven To Tears," whose lyrics – "How can you say that you're not responsible? /What does it have to do with me? / What is my reaction, what should it be? / Confronted by this latest atrocity" – could have been written in response to the Haitian tragedy.

Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, upstaged the big unveiling of a collaborative charity single by Jay-Z, U2's Bono and the Edge and producer Swizz Beatz with a simple, plaintive and affectingly emotional reading of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that might have been the highlight of both broadcasts.

As a motivating force, all the music in the world couldn't compare to the on-the-ground accounts from reporters in Haiti – CTV's Paul Workman, CBC's Susan Ormiston, Global's Mike Armstrong and CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Show closer Haitian-American Wyclef Jean, atoning for the recent scandals that have plagued his own Haitian charity, told of digging bodies from the rubble and cemeteries that had no room for more corpses.

"Right now, we can see the second wave of this disaster coming – pain and suffering that you and I can prevent," he said, promising: "From the ashes we shall rise."

Prior to Friday's telethons, world governments had pledged nearly $1 billion (U.S.) in aid to Haiti, including $130 million from the United States.

The Canadian Red Cross says it has collected $61 million for Haitian relief so far, $45 million of that from individual Canadians. Ottawa has said it will match private contributions dollar for dollar.