Stars Give Millions to Aid Katrina Victims

Diddy and Jay-Z pledge aid as Alicia Keys, Tim McGraw and others plan performances

With the Gulf Coast crisis continuing to mount, the American Red Cross has received $1 million donations from Nicolas Cage, Celine Dion, and similar pledges from Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z.

“When I turn on CNN, I see a lot of black people on the streets,” Jay-Z tells the Associated Press. “I know it’s other people too, but those projects have been hit hard.” He and Combs announced their joint donation Thursday, saying they hoped to inspire others, especially African Americans, to give.

“This is our community,” says Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Combs concurs: “We are all descendants from each other’s families. When you hear black people say ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters,’ it’s really true. These are all people that I know I’m related to somehow, some way – the human race family.”

Jay-Z said he had put in calls to NBA star LeBron James and rapper Kanye West for donations.

Dion’s donation, made with the partners of her “A New Day” Las Vegas show, went to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

In the telethon department, the six major networks are planning a joint live broadcast similar to the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” held in 2001, a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That event nearly four years ago drew nearly 90 million viewers and raised more than $100 million for victims.

Meanwhile, NBC, MSNBC and CNBC will simulcast “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” in high-definition live from Rockefeller Center Friday night, with viewers encouraged to donate to the American Red Cross disaster Relief Fund.

To be hosted by Today show anchor Matt Lauer, the special (which will be tape-delayed for West Coast viewers) will feature performances from Faith Hill, Aaron Neville, Tim McGraw, Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., and appearances from Mike Myers, Hilary Swank, Lindsay Lohan, Eli Manning, John Goodman and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“I am heartbroken by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in my home state,” McGraw, who was born in Delhi, La., said in a statement.

Connick, a New Orleans favorite son, expressed his sorrow over his hometown’s devastation. Critical of the rescue efforts, Connick said on Friday’s Today show: “How hard is it to bring a truck with bottles of water over to the convention center?” He said he’s doing all he can to make people aware of the situation, “but I’m a musician. What can I do?”

MTV and its sister music cable channels VH1 and CMT also announced that their live benefit program will air Saturday with hook-ups to performers in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Nashville. They are, so far, set to include Green Day, Usher, Rob Thomas and Alicia Keys.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, whose Mississippi Delta home received only rain and high winds, helped organize an online auction to raise funds for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Maintaining the momentum, BET has announced a Sept. 9 telethon to feature Russell Simmons, Master P and jazz artist Marsalis, and veteran comic Jerry Lewis said he would devote a portion of his annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association charity, which starts on Sunday, to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, reports Reuters.

In fact, Master P, also a New Orleans native, told the Associated Press that his uncle, father-in-law and sister-in-law, among others, were unaccounted for. His father was missing until recently.

“We just got caravans of family members (evacuated),” Master P said Thursday. “It’s just devastating.”

The rapper-producer said he had created a foundation called Team Rescue and had helicopters searching for his missing family members.

Indeed, throughout the entertainment community people have been reaching out to victims of the catastrophe.

Louisiana native Britney Spears, who was raised in Kentwood, says her “thoughts and prayers go out to everyone” in the states along the devastated Gulf Coast. “All of my family members there are safe and thank you to all my fans for your concern,” Spears, 23, has posted on her Web site.

Talk host Ellen DeGeneres says that for two days she didn’t know whether her aunt, Helen Currie, had made it through the storm. The aunt (DeGeneres’s mother’s sister), lives in Pass Christian, Miss., which is just over the state line from New Orleans. Until Currie was found safe Wednesday, all DeGeneres knew about her relative was that Currie had grabbed four pictures and quickly left her house.

“Whether you have family there or not, it’s a devastating situation,” DeGeneres, in tears, told AP.

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