Country stars and many other celebrities joined with CMT on Thursday night (May 12) to seek help for thousands of people trying to rebuild their lives after devastating floods and tornadoes across the South. Donations from the event will support the efforts of the American Red Cross.
Photo Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert, a 90-minute telethon, began with disturbing images of the storms' aftermath, stretching from Oklahoma to North Carolina. Afterwards, Hank Williams Jr. and the Blind Boys of Alabama partnered for the spiritual classic, "I Saw the Light," written by Hank Williams Sr., paving the way for a diverse evening of music.
By the end of the night, Nashville luminaries like Ronnie Dunn, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban had all appeared on the broadcast to show their support for storm victims. Williams, who first approached CMT with the idea for a fundraising concert, concluded the evening with a lively version of "Dixie on My Mind."
Along the way, a plea for support came from President Obama, while video messages were shared by Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood, as well as actresses Nicole Kidman and Courteney Cox, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and American Idol personalities Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Seacrest and Steven Tyler.
During the early musical segments, Little Big Town covered the Coldplay hit, "Fix You," while Sara Evans offered "A Little Bit Stronger," an appropriate composition about healing with time.
"When I signed up to be a celebrity spokesperson for the Red Cross, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd be standing here today in my home state of Alabama, talking about people that we know and our neighbors," Evans said in a video segment as she walked through the aftermath. "I just can't even imagine it. Every single thing you own, just gone. Destroyed."
Tim McGraw sang "My Old Friend" and also strongly encouraged viewers -- especially those in his home state of Louisiana -- to take evacuation requests seriously.
"I understand the desire to try to ride things out," he said. "Folks in Louisiana are pretty tough. Please, if you're in the path of the current flooding and someone tells you to evacuate, do it. Don't risk your own life and the life of your family to stand your ground. It's hard to say this, but your home can be replaced. You can't."
Randy Owen, lead singer of Alabama, spoke about the destruction in his native turf.
"We're here tonight because we're going to ask for your help," he said prior to a performance of "My Home's in Alabama" with bandmates Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry.
"In the county that we're from, where we live in DeKalb County, we lost 34 of our citizens," Owen explained. "In our home state of Alabama, we've lost -- so far -- 238. These are people that we knew and friends of ours. We need your help. We sing this song for our friends back in Alabama and the surrounding area. We love y'all. We're praying for you. And everybody around the world that's listening and watching, help us out if you can."
In pre-taped segments, Ronnie Dunn recounted a story of a daughter who survived the storm with her elderly mother. In addition, Keith Urban shared an account of an 11-year-old who rescued a 67-year-old woman trapped in the rubble of her apartment building. Meanwhile, Lady Antebellum shared a tale about a family's lost dog brought home through social media outreach.
Later in the show, Dunn performed "Bleed Red," and Urban sang "Everybody." In addition, Lady Antebellum offered a medley of "Three Little Birds," "I Run to You" and "One Love."
During his video message, President Obama said, "When tragedy like this strikes our American family, we help one another. We support one another as one country and one people. And that's what we've seen over the past two weeks in the volunteers who have given their time and effort to help shelter and support those who have lost everything. In the first responders and local, state and federal officials who worked side by side in search-and-rescue and recovery efforts. And in every citizen who stepped up to be a good neighbor and a hero to their fellow Americans. That's what inspired tonight's relief concert. We stand with those affected by this disaster -- tonight and for as long as it takes."
Amid the heartfelt commentary, some artists relied solely on music to convey their feelings. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Gretchen Wilson delivered a moving rendition of "Angel From Montgomery," an enduring narrative written by John Prine and made famous by Bonnie Raitt. Later, Alan Jackson and his band gave a stirring performance of "Song for the Life," one of Rodney Crowell's most eloquent compositions.
Near the end of the telethon, Trace Adkins rendered a soulful version of "Rainy Night in Georgia," the pop classic written by Tony Joe White. Although he didn't speak in the moments prior to his song, Adkins' rich baritone could be heard throughout the broadcast in voiceovers that detailed the damage in communities across the South.
Meanwhile, phone pledges were answered by country artists like Clint Black, Montgomery Gentry, Kellie Pickler, Big Kenny, Ashton Shepherd, Clay Walker, Crystal Bowersox, Danny Gokey, David Nail, Phil Vassar and Darryl Worley, as well as Hank Williams Jr. and daughters Hillary and Holly Williams. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, HLN anchor Robin Meade and comedian Ron White co-hosted the telethon.
In addition, White pointed out the charitable efforts of country artists who were unable to participate in the telethon. For example, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton have scheduled two fundraising concerts in their native Oklahoma for disaster relief, while Brad Paisley is donating the digital royalties from his latest single, "Old Alabama." Just prior to the broadcast, Kenny Chesney announced he is donating his revenue from his May 25 concert in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for disaster relief efforts in the city that suffered dozens of casualties, with many more residents missing.
On behalf of CMT One Country, the network's pro-social initiative, viewers were encouraged to donate to the American Red Cross through online donations, texting REDCROSS to 90999 or calling 1-800-REDCROSS.
View photos from the event.