hope for haiti now

bruce springsteen. photo by dennis clinch.

bruce springsteen. photo by dennis clinch.

The most surreal aspect surrounding international telethons like last night’s Hope for Haiti Now is how quickly time is suspended. It’s all live, but there are no commercials. There are dynamic performances and testimonials, but there are no studio audiences.

That was especially true of the music the telethon stacked up. As a result, the performances that really drove a sense of urgency and hope home were the ones that dropped the frills. For some, the approach was business as usual, as when Bruce Springsteen sang We Shall Overcome back by trumpet, accordion and four singers (including wife Patti Scialfa). Others were major surprises, as when Justin Timberlake ably took on the mighty Leonard Cohen profession of faith Hallelujah.

In other instances, the music became wonderfully elemental, revealing a level of grace and intimate grit that some of the performers might otherwise keep hidden. Leading that category was, wonder of wonders, Beyonce, who delivered a thoroughly de-glammed Halo backed only by Coldplay’s Chris Martin on piano.

Best of all, though, was the way pop classics with timeless themes of strength and renewal found a new voice in a time of adversity. You heard that in the way Jennifer Hudson embraced The Beatles’ Let It Be and in how a trio of Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and Keith Urban rekindled Bill Withers’ Lean on Me. The killer, though, was a beautifully haggard and warbly reading of the stark Hank Williams meditation Alone and Forsaken by Neil Young and Dave Matthews. It was the most technically imperfect but immediately impassioned performance of the night.

Madonna’s full choir delivery of Like a Prayer, Wyclef Jean’s soca-style Rivers of Babylon and especially the Jay Z/Bono/Rhianna/The Edge summit Stranded were lacking. But leave it to Sting to pull a fast one with a worldbeat flavored Driven to Tears backed by trumpeter Chris Botti and members of The Roots.

Not surprisingly, the performance that best illuminated a sense of hope in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquakes came from one of the country’s own. Haitian singer Emeline Michel offered a lovely reading of Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross. The song remains an anthem of survival and a prayer of peace. Last night, it spoke to Haiti’s past, present and, hopefully, future.

To donate to Hope for Haiti Now, click here.

All of the telethon’s performance are available through iTunes with proceeds going to the Hope for Haiti Now charities (Unicef, American Red Cross, WFP, Oxfam America and more).



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