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Stars gather in Mississippi for hurricane benefit

Lance Bass, Faith Hill and other Mississippi natives performed Saturday night in a nationally telecast concert to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Actor Morgan Freeman opened a star-studded benefit concert for hurricane victims Saturday, telling a national television audience that the state he calls home “will rise again” from the ruins of the storm’s destruction.

Freeman, who lives in Tallahatchie County in northern Mississippi, described families living in tents on sites where their homes used to stand before Hurricane Katrina. But he assured viewers that the people would bounce back.

“We will rise again,” the teary eyed Oscar winner said. “Mississippi crawled out of the rubble and helped their neighbors and got about the business of surviving.”

Nearly 40 celebrities graced the stage at the University of Mississippi for the three-hour concert benefit called “Mississippi Rising,” which was shown on MSNBC and aired on commercial television stations throughout Mississippi and Louisiana, and on Mississippi Public Television.

Singer Macy Gray performed a soulful rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Laughs for a serious causeSitcom star Ray Romano got back to his standup comedy roots with a lighthearted monologue, including references to flying into Oxford’s “International Airport.”

“We couldn’t land right away — there was a dog on the runway,” Romano quipped.

Former “Designing Women” co-stars Delta Burke and Jean Smart manned the celebrity phone bank, alongside actor Gerald McRaney, a Mississippi native, and actress Marilu Henner.

In a taped documentary, Whoopi Goldberg toured the coast narrating scenes of the destruction.

“You look at the ’Wizard of Oz’ and you see things flying up in the air...this is where everything goes that didn’t land,” Goldberg said while riding past destroyed homes and wondering where the people had gone.

“That’s the thing about Mother Nature, she really doesn’t care what economic bracket you’re in,” Goldberg said.

‘Mississippi Girl’ through and throughThe broadcast included four songs by Mississippi native Faith Hill, including “Mississippi Girl” and “Breathe.”

Also among the performers was former boy-band singer Lance Bass, who agonized over not being able to reach family members in his hometown of Laurel, Miss.

Bass, a one-time singer with ’N Sync, said three days passed before he learned that his relatives were unhurt but had lost their homes in the disaster.

“It is very devastating, especially having to watch it on television, when you have family members that are being bombarded by the thing,” Bass told The Associated Press.

Donations will go to the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund, which was started by Gov. Haley Barbour, and to a similar fund in Louisiana administered by Foundations for Recovery.

The concert was organized by two Mississippi natives: Sam Haskell, former worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency in Hollywood, and Lanny Griffith, a longtime friend of the governor who is chief executive officer of the Washington lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Before becoming governor, Barbour was chairman and CEO of the firm.