Hurricane telethon: Usher, Paisley, Beyoncé, Wonder, Shelton, Lovato and more

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An unforgettable telethon raises millions.

Scores celebrities including George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hanks came together on Sept. 12 to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

The show opened with Stevie Wonder at his piano, belting out the night’s theme: “We all need somebody to lean on.” He was backed up by a powerful gospel choir.

Then two gospel singers stepped forward, their voices so full of emotion you’d think they’d witnessed the devastation from the massive hurricanes themselves. That’s because they had.

Joining Wonder were Victoria White and Marquist Taylor, who made headlines when they broke into song at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center near Houston where refugees had gathered to weather Hurricane Harvey.

The night was just beginning and already viewers across America had been brought to tears Tuesday night by the “Hand in Hand” telethon to raise millions of dollars for the millions of people smacked by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

And that was the first five minutes.

Those tears continued for the entire hour, as a galaxy’s worth of stars sang songs, offered touching stories from the storms and answered the phones to take in donations — $14.6 million by the end of the event, the Associated Press reported and much more through the night, with Apple donating $5 million, and a million each from Merck and Albertsons.

The telethon, which aired on various networks, including ABC, CBS, HBO, NBC and MTV, was broadcast from Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville, allowing stars across the country to participate either performing or taking calls.

Here’s a brief list of who did: Beyoncé, Dwayne Johnson, Jay Leno, Drake, Taraji P. Henson, Selena Gomez, Will Smith, Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Gwen Stefani, Dennis Quaid, Stephen Colbert, Kerry Washington, Justin Bieber, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah, Cher, Kelly Rowland, Hilary Duff, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Michael Strahan and Norah O’Donnell.

The different stages included different offerings — spliced with news footage of flooded cities.

Perhaps most striking about the telethon was the harmony on display.

In a moment when America seems almost impossibly divided, unlikely pairs from different cultural backgrounds came together. Take R&B singer Usher and country star Blake Shelton’s heartfelt rendition of “Stand by Me.”

Or Puerto Rican musician Luis Fonsi and pop singer Tori Kelly’s version of “Hallelujah.”

Or pop singer Demi Lovato, R&B star Darius Rucker and country singer Brad Paisley and gospel performer CeCe Winans joining to perform “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles.

As Beyoncé, who appeared via video, said, “Natural disasters don’t discriminate. They don’t care if you’re an immigrant, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Jewish or Muslim, wealthy or poor.”

From the stage of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman told a harrowing story of 41-year-old Colette Sulcer, a nurse who was swept away in the flood along with her 3-year-old daughter Jordyn.

“Colette held her daughter so tight. She said her prayers. She grew silent, and she died that night in the floodwaters,” Witherspoon said.

“A boat filled with rescuers saw Jordyn’s pink knapsack bobbing in the water. When they pulled her out Jordyn was shivering, traumatized and missing her mama,” Kidman continued. “For how long this little girl held on alone, we’ll never know. But as mothers, all we want is to keep our children safe. Now it’s up to all of us to take care of Colette’s precious baby, and everyone affected by these devastating storms.”

George Strait, Robert Earl Keen, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert and Lyle Lovett gave the final performance of the night. Fittingly, it was Strait’s ode to his home state, “Texas.”

The message throughout the telethon was clear.

“This is what America is all about,” Billy Crystal said to close the telethon.

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