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Wonder opens hurricane relief benefit with 'Lean on Me'

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Stevie Wonder asked television viewers across to "Lean on Me" and a collection of celebrities encouraged people watching a telethon for hurricane relief to open their wallets on Tuesday.

Originally conceived as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the "Hand in Hand" telethon was expanded to help people in Florida and the Caribbean devastated in recent days by Irma. It was shown on more than a dozen television networks and online simultaneously.

Wonder opened the broadcast by singing Bill Withers' song, backed by a gospel chorus. Cameras panned to Cher, Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks, Stephen Colbert, Wanda Sykes, Al Pacino, Jay Leno, Robert DeNiro and other celebrities waiting for phone donations to come in.

"We're here to raise money, lift some spirits," said comic Kevin Hart, standing with actor Leonardo DiCaprio. "When tough times hit, this is who we are. We're compassionate. We're unstoppable."

Cher and Oprah Winfrey encouraged donations by showing a widely-seen picture of people forming a human chain in Houston floodwaters in order to save a stranger.

The one-hour telethon originated from Los Angeles but also had stages in New York and Nashville, Tennessee. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, MTV, BET and Univision were among the networks carrying the program. Several organizations will benefit, including the United Way and Save the Children.

Houston rap artist Bun B and Hollywood talent manager Scooter Braun organized the event.

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