Live events are back in a big way from coast to coast but that doesn’t mean virtual gatherings are a thing of the past — nor is the pandemic phenomenon RWQuarantunes.
WME partner Richard Weitz and daughter Demi Weitz revived their virtual fundraising series on Thursday night in partnership with City of Hope for the org’s 16th annual Songs of Hope gala presented by Facebook. Proving there’s still an audience for these things, the gala raised more than $780,000 backed by an honorees lineup that featured Brandi Carlile, Smokey Robinson, rising music stars (and real-life couple) Gracie Abrams and Blake Slatkin, Oscar winner Hildur Guðnadóttir and the late Pop Smoke, Daniel Nigro and City of Hope’s Loretta Erhunmwunsee.
The virtual celebration, presented by Facebook, raised the hefty sum to support City of Hope’s mission to eliminate cancer and diabetes, a tally that pushed RWQuarantunes to $27.4 million raised for more than 50 organizations since March 2020. Spinmaster and Pass the Mic guru DJ Cassidy, fresh from an appearance at “We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert,” kicked off the night and got the energy flowing while broadcasting live from Kerry Brown’s Rolling Live Studios on Ventura Boulevard.
Demi — who started hosting RWQuarantunes alongside her father when she was 17 and is now a college freshman — promised surprises, special guests and “sniper” moments of impromptu performances and the night didn’t disappoint.
The hours-long broadcast featured performances by Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Simon Le Bon, who offered the iconic song “Ordinary World” (an appearance that checked off a bucket list item for Richard Weitz, who said he’d wanted them for RWQuarantunes since it started), Jac Ross, and Rob Thomas with appearances by emcee Jimmy Jam, Benny Blanco, Aloe Blacc, The Dream, Carole Bayer Sager, Diane Warren, Jennifer Holliday, (prior Songs of Hope honoree) Desmond Child, Todd Phillips, Deborah Cox, event co-chair Evan Lamberg, and others.
Ryan Press had the honors of presenting the program’s first award, Warner Chappell’s Voice of Hope Award, which was presented posthumously in honor of the late hip-hop star Pop Smoke. The Dream recorded a message about the slain rapper, who was killed during a home robbery attempt in February 2020. Later, his mother, Audrey Jackson, accepted the award on her son’s behalf and continued to honor his memory through a Q&A session with Billboard’s Gail Mitchell during which she praised her son’s talent and revealed his desire to one day be a business leader and entrepreneur.
Music mogul (and RWQuarantues vet) Clive Davis presented Robinson with the Clive Davis Legend in Songwriting Award. Event co-chairs turned the tables in a surprise moment by presenting Davis with another trophy, the Songs of Hope Heroes Award. Event co-chair Lamberg praised Davis for his contributions through the years, dubbing him the “bedrock and cornerstone” of Songs of Hope. Also during that segment, Aloe Blacc popped up to sing a bit of his hit, “The Man,” while Island Records artist Ross impressed during a short set of Robinson classics with “My Girl” and “Cruisin.”
Speaking of music, Matchbox Twenty frontman Thomas captivated the virtual crowd with an acoustic take of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” before accepting song requests in exchange for donations, including “Bent” and “Little Wonder.”
Ears perked up when it came time to present the Songwriter Impact Award to rising stars Abrams and Slatkin. She is a singer-songwriter (and daughter of Hollywood power couple J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath) who is about to embark on a North American headlining tour, This is What it Feels Like. He is a songwriter and producer riding high off No. 1 hits for Iann Dior (“Mood”) and the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber (“Stay”). Facebook’s Zeina Grenier and Alexa Cabellon were joined by surprise guest Benny Blanco in presenting them with the prize, before a short performance.
An established and Grammy Award-winning act also turned up for the event as Brandi Carlile was honored with a She is the Music Award, presented by Universal Music Publishing Group chairman and CEO Jody Gerson. The trophy came hours before the release of her newest album, In These Silent Days.
Nigro received the Sony Music Publishing Creative Trailblazer Award, presented to him by Sony’s Nick Bral and Jennifer Knoepfle, who shined a light on his many accomplishments, including recent work on Olivia Rodrigo’s smash album Sour. Erhunmwunsee, an assistant professor in the Division of Thoracic Surgery at City of Hope, took home the Beverly and Ben Horowitz Legacy Award, named after the longtime CEO and first lady of the institution. Under Horowitz’s leadership, City of Hope transformed from a small hospital focused on tuberculosis into a research and treatment leader.
The online gala was possible through support from Clive Davis, Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music and EA Music with additional support from ASCAP, Bruce Resnikoff, Barbara and Zach Horowitz, Concord, Jody and Gary Marsh, Hipgnosis, Mark and Ana Maria Gordon, and YouTube Music. Co-chairs included Doug Davis of the Davis Firm, Lamberg, president of North America/Universal Music Publishing Group, David Renzer, and Steve Schnur, worldwide executive and president of Music for Electronic Arts.