The hour-long event began when the legendary Stevie Wonder encouraged working together regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or sexual preference to help those devastated by the storms. Before performing a rendition of the classic Bill Withers tune “Lean On Me,” he took a jab at climate change deniers saying, “Anyone who believes there’s no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent. Lord, please save us all.”
Beyonce, a native of Houston, gave a passionate pre-recorded segment, saying, “During a time where it’s impossible to watch the news without seeing violence or racism in this country, just when you think it couldn’t possibly get worse, natural disasters take precious life, do massive damage and forever change lives.” She added, “Natural disasters don’t discriminate. They don’t see if you’re an immigrant, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Jewish or Muslim, wealthy or poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Third Ward or River Oaks, we’re all in this together. Seeing everyone of different racial, social and religious backgrounds put their own lives at risk to help each other survive, restored my faith in humanity.”
The telethon generally stayed clear of politics and controversial moments like Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comment during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina benefit concert. Instead, there was an overwhelming, genuine focus on unity and encouraging of help to those affected by the hurricane.
During the telethon, Colbert broke the news that Apple donated $5 million while Jimmy Fallon said that Albertsons and Merck donated $1 million on top of that. Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul, who was on hand answering phones, said NBA Players Association not only donated $500,000 but said they would match any professional basketball player’s donation up to $20,000.
The telethon also included footage from Houston as it tried to rebuild from the aftermath of Harvey and more encouraging, heartfelt words and appearances from celebrities including Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Bruce Willis, Sofia Vergara, Justin Bieber, Taraji P. Henson, and more. The phone bank itself was a who’s who of Hollywood. Lupita Nyong’o was active on social media, documenting the event.
Texas native Selena Gomez gave a tearful speech saying “no matter who we are, the differences we have suddenly did not seem to matter. Since that day, we have joined together — neighbor helping neighbor, without stopping to think about race, religion or anything else.”