An array of celebrities including Justin Timberlake, George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey participated in the Hand In Hand telethon to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma Tuesday. The star-studded special featured the stories of survivors and first responders, impassioned pleas for unity and charity and calls to face the devastating effects of climate change.
The Hand in Hand special also featured musical performances from Stevie Wonder, Usher and Blake Shelton, Luis Fonsi and Tori Kelly, Dave Matthews, George Strait and more. Houston rapper Bun B helped organize the event with manager Scooter Braun. Proceeds from the Hand in Hand telethon will go the following charities: Rebuild Texas Fund, ASPCA, Best Friends, Direct Relief, Feeding Texas, Feeding Florida, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children and United Way.
Wonder opened the special with a rousing cover of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," performing the cut alongside a gospel choir. Prior to his performance, the musician delivered a poignant message that also included a sharp remark about climate change: "Anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent."
In a short, but moving statement, Timberlake addressed the absolute devastation the hurricanes have inflicted. "The refrain you hear from Corpus Christi to Key West and back again is, 'I've lost everything,'" Timberlake said. "No home or car, no furniture, no appliances, no beloved pictures, kids' drawings, that favorite mug with 'You're the Best Dad' on it, all gone, destroyed. Your clothes are ruined, no shirts, pants, underwear or socks. Even the clothes you wore walking into the shelter have been tossed because the flood waters were filled with who knows what. Those new school supplies, they're in the trash heap by the side of the road. Millions of people are in need."
Following an introduction from Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly and Luis Fonsi teamed for a gorgeous bilingual cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Kelly delivered the track's opening verse over a swell of strings while Fonsi sang the second over the delicate pluck of an acoustic guitar. As the song moved gracefully forward, the pair continued to trade lines until finally unleashing a remarkable final refrain packed with chilling harmonies and vocal runs.
Will Smith honored the countless volunteers and first responders who risked their lives assisting the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. The actor opened his message with a quote from Muhammad Ali – "Service to others is the rent you pay for a room here on Earth" – and added: "In recent days we've witnessed all kinds of American champions from across our nation, standing together hand in hand, facing down real danger, and storms of historic proportions. In doing so, these American heroes have saved lives and restored faith in so many ways."
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson recalled his family's experience surviving Hurricane Andrew in 1992. "I saw homes, business, whole towns destroyed, but despite the chaos brought on by that storm, when it was over, I also saw our community grow stronger," Johnson said. "That's because there are no strangers in the aftermath of a hurricane. There's no political parties, no agendas, and other things that can often divide us. It's all about survival and coming together as one."
Elsewhere, Oprah and Cher shared the remarkable story of an elderly man who was stranded in his car and saved by a literal human chain, while Julia Roberts and George Clooney spoke about a man who returned to his flooded home in Texas and was filmed playing the piano in a testament to the power of music.
The musical performances during the Hand in Hand benefit also included Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Demi Lovato and gospel singer Cece Winans delivering a soaring cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."
Dave Matthews also delivered a solemn acoustic rendition of "Mercy" while the telethon closed with a performance from George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen live from San Antonio, Texas. Matthew McConaughey introduced the all-star outfit – all of whom, hail from the Lone Star State, except Stapleton – who unleashed a spirited rendition of Strait's ode, "Texas."