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TV Fundraisers Focus on Storm Victims Instead of Politics

Appearing in both shows, Kanye West reflects on his criticism of President Bush.

September 10, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

One week after rapper Kanye West sparked controversy by charging that President Bush "doesn't care about black people" during NBC's telethon for victims of Hurricane Katrina, two more nationally televised fundraisers unfolded Friday with an emphasis on music rather than commentary.

West, who appeared on both shows, performed his Grammy-winning song "Jesus Walks" on "Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast," an hourlong telethon carried by all six major broadcast networks. Later, on the BET cable network's "S.O.S. (Saving Ourselves)," he reflected on last week's comments, which also touched on the media's portrayal of black storm victims.

The media "really tried to make the black people seem like animals," he said on BET. "I just felt the world needed to hear what was going on.... I just let my heart speak for myself without thinking about what my image is or how it is going to hurt me financially or what is going to happen. I just do it and I say what I really feel."

Comedian Steve Harvey, one of the show's hosts, defended the bestselling rapper.

"Sometimes out of hurt and frustration, we say a lot of things," Harvey said. "We love you, brother, and do keep your head up, and we understand what you were trying to say.

"You have a lot of people's support in spite of all the ridicule that you are receiving, man."

On BET, which aims its programming at the African American community, such stars as Alicia Keys, Usher, Ludacris and Mary J. Blige performed and/or spoke during a show that went an hour past its scheduled 2 1/2 hours. The program was marked by low-key folksiness and songs of spiritual comfort.

The hourlong "Shelter From the Storm," which was also carried by several cable outlets, had a more formal, structured format that featured several emotional performances.

U2 teamed up with Blige on the Irish rock group's comforting "One," while Garth Brooks, the country superstar who has been out of the public eye in recent years, delivered a spirited version of John Fogerty's "Who'll Stop the Rain."

Joel Gallen, "Shelter's" executive producer, said this week that he had spoken to nearly all of the performers on his show and that they had agreed to keep the focus on the victims' needs rather than politics.

BET representatives, on the other hand, said that they would impose no restrictions on performers' comments, and criticism of the media and government were voiced on "S.O.S." by rapper Jay-Z, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and singer Erykah Badu.

Former President Bill Clinton phoned the telethon to express his support, and he seemed surprised when Harvey asked if he would have responded differently to the disaster.

Clinton said that this wasn't the best time to talk about it, then went on describe how the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been a better-run, Cabinet-level organization during his administration. "We always thought faster was better than slower," Clinton said.

Like West, comedian Chris Rock appeared at both events with variations of the same spoof of West's controversial NBC comment. "George Bush hates midgets," he wisecracked on "Shelter From the Storm" and added, "Don't forget, George Bush hates albinos" on BET.

The telethon parade continues tonight with an MTV/VH1/CMT program featuring numerous pop and rock figures including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and West.

Times staff writers Matea Gold and Robert Hilburn contributed to this story.

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