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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
'A prayer for our fallen'
Billy Joel singing New York State of Mind
Billy Joel sang New York State of Mind
By entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

For a traumatised America Bruce Springsteen seemed to set the right tone when he kicked off a historic telethon by announcing that his song My City In Ruins was "a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters".

It was an emotional performance and Springsteen's reverential lyrics managed to focus appropriate attention on the victims of last week's terrorist attacks.

The subdued two-hour America: A Tribute to Heroes broadcast, which was produced in Los Angeles and New York, ran without interruption by commercials, and for the most part, did not lapse into Hollywood sentimentality.


We are merely artists, entertainers, here to raise spirits and we hope, a great deal of money

Bruce Springsteen
Stevie Wonder, Sting, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Neil Young, Billy Joel and Sting were among 20 different musicians who performed.

Whether it was Paul Simon singing Bridge Over Troubled Water while wearing a New York fire department cap or Wyclef Jean sporting the American flag while doing a version of Bob Marley's Redemption Song, it all added up to a very powerful evening.

One of the most anticipated performances came from Mariah Carey, who recently suffered a breakdown, but her rendition of the song Hero was not among the stand-out moments.

Brief tributes

After the horror of recent days the music acts that resonated for New Yorkers seemed to be Billy Joel crooning A New York State of Mind, or Neil Young's version of John Lennon's Imagine.

The musical contributions were interspersed by brief tributes from a roster of big name actors and singers who detailed the heroic efforts of firefighters, police officers and other individuals affected by the disaster.


I wouldn't be here representing Islam if it were terrorist

Muhammad Ali
Julia Roberts described the patriotic spirit at the Pentagon on the day of the attack.

Tom Cruise honoured the New York Fire Department chaplain who died as the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

Some stars quoted charismatic leaders - Jim Carrey referred to Winston Churchill while Kelsey Grammer focused on words from President John F Kennedy.

But Tom Hanks was humble enough to clarify for telethon viewers the limited role celebrities can play in this national tragedy.

Intense experience

After Springsteen performed he told viewers: "We are not the protectors of this great nation".

"We are merely artists, entertainers, here to raise spirits and we hope, a great deal of money," he said.

For relatives of World Trade Center victims tuning in to the two-hour telethon was an intense experience.


In the conflict that's come upon us we're determined to win through the ultimate triumph, so help us God

Clint Eastwood
After the broadcast, Andrew Rice, younger brother of David, an investment banker who died in the disaster, said: "My whole family watched it, we felt good in a way, we've been feeling so sad and depressed and fearful that it was a nice break from it all."

For Rice, a special moment in the telethon occurred when Sting, performing Fragile live from London, dedicated the song to his brother's boss Herman Sandler, who also died in the World Trade Center carnage.

The relatives hope the broadcast was effective as a fundraising effort, and many thought the presence of having major celebrities, including Jack Nicholson and Sylvester Stallone, working phone banks was a good tactic that would encourage people to call in.

Anti-Muslim discrimination

The broadcast also included clips of Muslim schoolchildren in the US describing how they had already become targets of hatred.

In an effort to combat discrimination against Muslims, Will Smith appeared with Muhammad Ali, who he plays in a forthcoming biopic.

Ali, America's most famous Muslim, said: "I wouldn't be here representing Islam if it were terrorist."

The telethon was not an overtly political event, but it was boldly patriotic and it fell to Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood to remind the rest of the world of American resolve.

Eastwood told viewers: "In the conflict that's come upon us we're determined to win through the ultimate triumph, so help us God."

Meaningful tribute

The broadcast succeeded because it was understated and not manic or flashy, in fact several celebrities stumbled over their lines and the ensemble musical finale was unco-ordinated.

This lack of Hollywood gloss made it a far more authentic and meaningful tribute.

It will be a few days yet before it is known how much money the telethon has raised for the United Way's September 11 Fund.

But it could end up being one of most successful attempts ever to harness the power of pop culture to generate money for the victims of a disaster.

The Fund will use the money to "respond to the pressing needs of the victims and their families and all those affected by the tragedy".


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