— -- A-list celebrities came out in droves on Monday night to take part in the "Hand in Hand" hurricane relief benefit, which raised more than $44 million for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
During the telethon, Stephen Colbert announced that Apple was donating $5 million and Jimmy Fallon added that Albertsons Cos. and Merck each gave $1 million.
NBA star Chris Paul also said that the NBA Players Association, which donated $500,000, would match any professional basketball player's donation up to $20,000.
"We come together today to love on people that have been devastated by the hurricanes," Stevie Wonder, who sang "Lean on Me," said at the start of the telethon. "When love goes into action, it preferences no color of skin, no ethnicity, no religious beliefs, no sexual preferences, and no political persuasions. It just loves."
Throughout the hour-long benefit, which was broadcast on four networks, including ABC, celebrities stressed the importance of unity. However, the current politic climate was referenced at several points. In video addresses, Drake admitted that that news cycle recently has been "extremely overwhelming," while Beyonce noted that, "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 take precious life, do massive damage, and forever change lives, leaving behind contaminated water, flooded hospitals, schools, and nursing homes and countless families are now homeless," she continued. “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 [Houston neighborhoods] Third Ward or River Oaks, we’re all in this together.”
Beyonce, a Houston native, also touched on climate change, pointing out other natural disasters that have taken place around the world in the past few weeks, including flooding in India and an earthquake in Mexico. Wonder also discussed the issue, and had harsh words for climate change deniers.
"Anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent," he said.
The telethon was also punctuated by stars including Kerry Washington, Sean "Diddy" Combs; Oprah Winfrey and Cher; and Justin Timberlake telling stories of those who were directly impacted by the hurricanes, as well as performances in locations around the country. In Nashville, Usher and Blake Shelton sang "Stand By Me," while George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett sang "Texas" and "I Believe" from San Antonio. Other performances included Luis Fonsi and Tori Kelly singing "Hallelujah," Brad Paisley, Demi Lovato, Darius Rucker, Cece Winans performing "With a Little Help from My Friends," and Dave Matthews singing "Mercy."
"This is what we can give people with our donations tonight. We can't bring back what they lost, but we can help them know where to take the next step and provide some solid footing for them to place their next foot. A path to stability. To a place where they can rebuild," Matthew McConaughey told viewers. "This is what they need and this is what we can give them."
Also answering phones during the telethon: Justin Bieber, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Bruce Willis, Sofia Vergara, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, among others. Billy Crystal closed the telethon thanking everyone at all the call centers, and reminding people that the phone lines and donation centers will be open all night. He concluded, "This is what America is really all about."
Comic Relief USA, the nonprofit behind Idol Gives Back, will manage the donations and distribute them to organizations including the Rebuild Texas Fund, Feeding Texas, Habitat for Humanity and United Way of Greater Houston.
Originally, the Hand in Hand telethon was meant to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. It was later expanded to include those affected by Irma, which hit the southeast this weekend. It has been estimated that the storms caused between $150 billion and $290 billion in damage to Texas and Florida.
At least 70 people died during Hurricane Harvey, and 22 deaths have been reported in the U.S. from Hurricane Irma.