Harry Connick Jr. and friends in NOLA
United We Sing: Cyndi Lauper, Jamie Foxx & More Help Harry Connick Jr. Bring Smiles To Essential Workers
On Sunday, June 21, CBS aired the two-hour "United We Sing: A GRAMMY Salute To The Unsung Heroes" special featuring host Harry Connick Jr., who, along with his filmmaker daughter, Georgia Connick, journeyed via RV from New York to New Orleans to personally thank the essential workers risking their lives to keep us all safe and healthy during the COVID-19 crisis.
The inspiring road trip, which was shot several weeks ago and with a limited crew and social distancing precautions, saw the Connicks visiting truck drivers, teachers, grocery store workers, hospital cleaning staff, firefighters, a trash route worker and other unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
At each stop, a very special guest, via Zoom, helped Harry offer messages of gratitude to the local heroes, while Georgia filmed the moving interactions. These included Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah, along with GRAMMY winners Irma Thomas, Jamie Foxx, Herbie Hancock, Andra Day, Cyndi Lauper, Little Big Town, Dave Matthews, Tim McGraw, John Fogerty and others.
The first stop was to visit Harry's sister Suzanna Jamison, a military doctor currently stationed at Queens Hospital Center in Queens, N.Y. "It's really hard for all the people involved," she said. It was also, understandably so, hard for the siblings to not be able to hug each other. He later visited their father in New Orleans, where they grew up, for another heartwarming family visit.
After narrowly escaping N.Y.C. while driving their massive RV through the narrow streets of Chinatown, Harry navigated them to Chattanooga, Tenn. to thank an adorable trucker couple. McGraw, the first celeb guest of the jaunt, said hi via Zoom. The country icon shared that his dad was a trucker, and he got his country music education at a young age, riding alongside his father with the tape deck going. He then sang an acoustic rendition of his 1999 song "Something Like That" (watch the performance above).
The next stop was to visit teachers at Irvington High School in Newark, N.J. One of the young teachers, Aaysha Notice, shared her passion for showing up for her students, even when they're apart, with innovative ideas like a car parade to celebrate the kids' test scores, driving outside their houses, shouting praises from a safe distance. Their special caller was Queen Latifah—she attended Irvington at the same time her mom taught there. Notice and the other teachers where thrilled to hear support from Latifah, who reminded them: "You are the superstars!"
The show was interspersed with a stellar selection of musical guests and virtual collabs, the second of which was Trombone Shorty and Little Big Town, with the New Orleans jazz artist playing from his hometown and the country act singing in from Florida and Nashville. They performed a rousing cover of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)."
Irma Thomas sings in front of the Mississippi River
Other performances included Thomas singing her GRAMMY-winning 1962 classic "It's Raining" in front of a grey-skied Mississippi river, with Lauper supporting virtually from Los Angeles and Foxx singing a moving rendition of Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands," dedicated to his beloved grandmother and Withers. Foxx helped thank the cleaning staff at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Ala.
Hancock and Day, who is playing Billie Holiday in an upcoming biopic, performed Holiday's "God Bless The Child," along with an upright bassist and drummer, each playing from their respective set-ups. Later, Jon Batiste and the Gospel Soul Children served up a beautiful performance of "Amazing Grace."
Fogerty and his family, calling in from Los Angeles, performed an electric rendition of his "Proud Mary," with help from Rockin' Dopsie Jr. playing the zydeco in front of the river that inspired the Creedance Clearwater Revival hit. Also while in NOLA, Connick joined an amazing, socially distanced second line, featuring the Bourbon Street Brass Band, the Lady Buckjumpers and the Wild Magnolias, who delivered a brass rendition of "America The Beautiful."
One of the most moving musical moments came from the tribute to the late jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, who died from COVID-19. Three of his sons honored the NOLA legend with the hymn "How Great Thou Art," along with Connick singing on a piano. They performed outside of the city's Ellis Marsalis Center For Music, built after hurricane Katrina to serves as a music education and enrichment space for kids, a recording studio, performance hall and more. One of the eldest sons, Branford Marsalis, returned to the show later to perform Dave Matthews Band's "Mercy" with Dave himself.
While visiting New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell at City Hall, Lou Hill of the Recording Academy stopped by to share the Academy would be joining Connick in making donations to the Marsalis Center and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, another important local music org highlighted during the special. During the show, viewers where encouraged to learn more and donate what they could to the non-profits, as well as MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund and two food-focused charities, No Kid Hungry and the Conscious Alliance, a coalition of artists dedicated keeping their communities fed.
Other stops and celebrity Zoom cameos included a visit to Oprah's Boys and Girls Club in Kosciusko, Miss., where the employees are feeding kids who would otherwise not eat with school out, with around 2000 meals a day! Winfrey called in to thank them personally; she helped open in that Boys and Girls Club in her hometown back in 2006. At a Kroger's grocery store in Knoxville, Tenn., Connick called on Renée Zellweger to praise two lovely employees there. Sandra Bullock zoomed with transit supervisor Joy Palmer, who recently lost her husband to COVID-19.
A gospel choir sings with Connick in Jefferson Square, New Orleans
Brad Pitt made two cameos, first offering playful jokes and heartfelt thanks to the lovely Darnell, the supervisor of trash pickup route, and later to help Connick close the show. The final number saw Connick singing "Stars Still Shine" on a piano in NOLA's Jackson Square, with the support of a gospel choir and orchestra. The new song, dedicated to all their new friends on the front lines, and the many more they didn't have time to meet, is available to download now with all proceeds going to the Marsalis Center.