The nation will turn its attention to Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief tonight (Sept. 12) as stars including Justin Timberlake, Dave Matthews, Leonardo DiCaprio, Travis Scott, Beyoncé, Oprah, Kelly Rowland, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, J Balvin, George Clooney and dozens of others will help raise funds to support those impacted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma during a one-hour special (8-9 p.m. ET) airing on all major TV networks. Initially born out of an idea from UGK member and Houston hometown hero Bun B, the compassion the rapper felt for his city led to a call with manager Scooter Braun, with plans for the benefit unfolding from there.
With artists appearing in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville and more than a dozen networks (including CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC) simultaneously broadcasting the show, the event is being produced by SB Projects (Scooter Braun and Alison Kaye) and Den of Thieves (Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager), along with Bernard “Bun B” Freeman. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has contributed $5 million, with Verizon adding $2.5 million and 2,000 call center volunteers.
Billboard spoke to Braun over the phone, where he imparted lessons learned from the One Love Manchester benefit concert (for victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing) that he organized, the challenges of producing an event at such a major scale, and how he ultimately wants everyone to step up to help anyway they can:
What have you learned from the Manchester Benefit concert that you’re applying to the Hand in Hand telethon?
I learned that you have a responsibility to do things when you can. And myself and Ariana spent 10 minutes each with the family members. And basically, what I walked away with from that experience is basically, when you’re talking about life or death, their lives are changed forever. And for us to make as big of an effort we can, we still get to go home at the end of the day, and these people may not have their loved ones, or their home might be taken away from them. You can only do as much as you can, but when you can you should.
Besides you and Bun spearheading the telethon with him having the initial idea and coming to you, what are the other key organizing partners that helped you and him bring this together and make it happen?
The networks themselves. For them to give us this time and this platform speaks volumes to their leadership. Whether it be Leslie Moonves at CBS or Ben [Sherwood] at ABC or Bob [Greenblatt] at NBC and Dana [Walden] at Fox. All four of them heard the call and answered. And also Den of Thieves, Jesse and Evan. They had just finished the VMAs, they were exhausted. They were supposed to take a break, and these guys signed up for it to do it pro bono.
Drake was the first person to call me after Bun B. Kelly Rowland saying yes right away. Beyonce saying she would participate and deliver an incredibly powerful message to those people. It’s just been amazing to see people make the effort to show up. It makes me proud to be in this business. A lot of times in this business, we forget that we’re surrounded by a lot of really good people.
As you were organizing the telethon, you obviously found out Hurricane Irma was also on the horizon. Talk about some of the options you considered once you knew another national disaster was coming.
Bun B told me that the first person to come help him get into Port Arthur and help his community was his friend, who drove all the way from Miami to help. So the moment we found out Irma was coming and heading for Florida and the islands, we immediately changed our paperwork to be hurricane relief, so we could support them as well. Because Bun B said to me, “Who would I be to not return the favor?”
I think the whole point of what we’re trying to say with this telethon is that the devastation of the hurricane means we need to help each other — but it doesn’t stop or end there. It’s an opportunity for all of us to come together and remember a year of where there’s been so much talk of hatred and division, that push comes to shove, we as a people come together. And we have to get back to that idea.
You’ve become the go-to organizer for disaster relief events. Is this a role you see yourself continuing to play in the future? Why or why not?
This is the way I’m going to look at it: If I’m going to help, I’m going to help. But I don’t want to be the go-to guy. I want everybody to be the go-to guy. My hope is that the same way I was inspired by others before me who did stuff, I want people to see what we’re doing and say “I want to step up and do the next one.” I can tell you there’s a concert in Charlottesville that Dave Matthews Band and Pharrel [Williams] are doing, and Ariana and myself are flying out there to be supportive for that. This isn’t about who is doing what, it’s just about people doing it.
What are some of the challenges planning an event at this scale?
One of the biggest challenges is timeline. You have to act quickly. The second thing is you take it so personally: Once you dive in and you get in there, you see people hurting, it becomes very real, and it isn’t just another event. And every person you’re asking, it really drains you, because it’s easier to do the stuff that makes money than do the pro bono stuff — because with the pro bono stuff, your heart is completely in it.
I think Bun and I both agree, our wives are saints. They’re so incredibly supportive of us doing this work. You go off of other people’s passions and it has to start with an idea. It was Bun’s idea and his passion. He’s helping people who have been evacuated and worrying about his own family. And when someone calls you with that kind of passion, you jump in.
A version of this article will appear in Thursday’s (Sept. 14) edition of Billboard Magazine.