Canadian Stars and Centenarians Shine During ‘Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble’ Isolation Concert
The 'Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble' broadcast featured performances and appearances by Canadian musicians — such as Bryan Adams (above) — entertainers, athletes, super-centenarians and more. Photo: Bryan Adams
Lean on me. It’s the mantra that echoed across Canada on Sunday night following a virtual chorus of Canuck singers and musicians performing the classic tune during the Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble isolation concert — a nationwide broadcast in support of Food Banks Canada and frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The song, written by Bill Withers — who died on March 30 — featured stars like Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Geddy Lee, Jann Arden, Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Tenors and a score of other Canadian artists performing via webcam while isolating in their own homes (you can watch it in the video below). Produced by the collective artist initiative ArtistsCAN, proceeds from sales of the single — which is available on digital retail platforms — go to the Canadian Red Cross.
The tune highlighted a star-studded night of Canuck stars, athletes, scientists, frontline workers and even a group of inspiring centenarians, all of whom conveyed messages of hope and positivity to Canadians.
What could be called the greatest one-night performance of Canadian musical talent in history featured songs, or portions of songs, by Celine Dion (“Courage”), Bryan Adams (“Shine A Light”), Tom Cochrane (“Life Is a Highway”), Sarah McLachlan, (“Blackbird”), Shania Twain (“Up”), Randy Bachman (“Taking Care of Business,” with revised lyrics “keep your distance and wash your hands”), William Prince (“The Spark”), Jann Arden (“Sleepless”), Measha Brueggergosman (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”) and Burton Cummings (“Share the Land”) among others.
Michael Bublé, the Barenaked Ladies and Sofia Reyes performed the song “Gotta Stay Patient,” with lines like, “I just want to see my friends/ I want to walk the street again/ But I gotta be patient/ So let’s enjoy this confination.”
Another stirring musical performance came courtesy of the group Voices Rock Medicine — a choir made up completely of Canadian female physicians — singing the song “Rise Again.”
More Famous Canucks Offer Hope
Notable Canadians from Rick Mercer to the cast of Schitt’s Creek to Ryan Reynolds, athletes Tessa Virtue, Bianca Andreescu, Andre De Grasse and George St. Pierre, and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde all made appearances to thank frontline workers and encourage Canadians to donate to food banks and stay the course during COVID-19 isolation.
Athlete and philanthropist Rick Hansen noted that, “We are a diverse country with unique strengths … It’s times like that, when we face a crisis, it reflects who we are,” while actor Kiefer Sutherland talked about how his grandfather — Tommy Douglas — believed that healthcare was a right for all Canadians and that it’s frontline workers who make it work. He added, “You have made us so proud.”
Will & Grace star Eric McCormack quipped that, “If Canadians can brave a production of Henry IV Part II in the dead of winter in Winnipeg, they can survive anything.” Author Margaret Atwood noted that, “People are discovering that they’re going to be less anxious if they’re doing something to help” and discussed the inspiration gleaned from neighbours and communities helping each other across Canada. “There is another side and when we do get there, we’ll be thinking of other and better ways to do things.”
Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie recited a poem about nature, which included the line, “Take heart and take care of your link with life,” and astronaut Chris Hadfield compared quarantine to the monotony and isolation of being on a spaceship. He advised creating a rhythm of the day with both necessary tasks and tasks you do for fun. To cap off the spaceflight analogy, he suggested that the end of COVID-19 will be like returning to Earth, and that “Landing day can be the greatest day of your life as well.”
Meanwhile, actor Mike Myers, wearing a Mountie hat, a “Canada” shirt and waving Canadian flag, thanked frontline workers and food banks and added, “I’m wearing a Mountie hat not just because I’m proud of Canada, but because I have a quarantine haircut that looks like it was done with a knife and fork.”
Comedian Howie Mandel hid under his bed, joking that he’s playing a game of Hide and Go Seek but that he didn’t tell anyone and no one is coming to find him, while actor Hamza Haq, who stars on the Canadian medical drama Transplant, added, “Our show was in the fortunate position to donate all our PPE such as masks, gowns and gloves to the Montreal hospitals in need.”
Legendary Canadian singer Anne Murray honoured the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting while Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, who divorced in 2016 after 13 years of marriage, appeared together in quarantine to send their love to Canada. And singer Jann Arden discussed how the pandemic is an opportunity for a reset. “So many good things are going to come out of this,” she explained. “So many good things coming out of bad things.”
And famed scientist David Suzuki recalled being in Montreal during the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 championship run — noting the odd sight of Montreal sports fans cheering a Toronto team. It taught him that, “We can be united for a cause, and there’s none greater today than COVID-19.” He added that, through the pandemic, he’s learned to appreciate the most important things in life, which for him are, “Friends, family, community and nature.”
To top it off, the Atherton family — some of whom perform with Cirque du Soleil — entertained with quarantine acrobatics in their living room.
And throughout the show, doctors, nurses, frontline workers, food bank volunteers in communities across Canada and even Canadians who’ve survived COVID-19 discussed their stories of hard work, generosity and survival.
Super Centenarians Inspire a Nation
One of the most popular parts of the broadcast was the appearance of a number of Canadian centenarians, who offered advice on how to stay the course and get through COVID-19. Many of them lived through the Spanish Flu in 1918, or survived bouts of scarlet fever.
George P. Allen, a 107-year-old from Nova Scotia, recalled the Spanish Flu and assured Canadians that, “This will come to pass.” He added, “And help each other.”
The centenarians clearly struck a chord with Canucks, prompting people across the country to take to social media to celebrate them following their appearance.
Two Justins and a Drake
Canada’s two most famous Justins made an appearance on the show as well, with Justin Bieber appearing first, alongside his wife Hailey Baldwin Bieber, sending their love while noting they are in isolation together in the Great White North.
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a brief message of assurance: “We’re going to get through this together.”
Then, eclipsing even the Prime Minister to close out the show, rapper Drake appeared and urged people to look for the silver linings in the pandemic. “And I hope we all emerge better people, a more unified people … and I hope we never take for granted again some of the moments we have for years in this rat race of life.”
Continue reading below for coverage of other notable COVID-19 concerts and performances.
One World: Together At Home
If digital isolation concerts are the new norm during our locked down existence, then the pandemic-era enjoyed its version of Woodstock with Saturday’s One World: Together At Home concert. Sure, there wasn’t as much free love and frolicking in the mud as at the original Woodstock — one’s own yard, of course, had to stand in for the sprawling farmer’s field for this show — but the joint initiative, courtesy of the World Health Organization and advocacy group Global Citizen and spearheaded by Lady Gaga, offered a star-studded, multi-generational roster of performers offering hope and strength, as well as support for front line workers, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Co-hosted by late-night stars Stephen Colbert (The Late Show), Jimmy Fallon (The Tonight Show) and Jimmy Kimmel (Jimmy Kimmel Live!), the featured performances and appearances were all pre-recorded in the respective talent’s homes, allowing for quick transitions between acts and special guests.
And aside from hope and strength, nostalgia proved the most common thread for the evening, a nod to the fact that, in times of crisis, we often gravitate to those comfort songs that imbue us with a sepia-tinged sense of a simpler time. As such, the highlights of the concert — an eight-hour show (which you can watch here) with the final two broadcast on network television — included both music legends performing their greatest hits and younger stars covering classic tunes.
JLo and the Stones Steal the Show
Two of the most buzzed-about performances from the night came courtesy of The Rolling Stones and Jennifer Lopez.
Flanked by candles and string lights outdoors and wearing a black sweatshirt emblazoned with 1969 Richard Bernstein painting of Barbra Streisand that Lopez previously modelled in a 2019 Coach campaign, the 50-year-old channeled Babs with a stirring rendition of her classic Funny Girl tune “People,” which the Los Angeles Times declared, “brought a level of superstar sparkle at a moment when we’ve all grown accustomed to the shabby-chic aesthetic of our new live stream era.”
The Stones, meanwhile, put every other Zoom meeting you’ve ever had to shame by rocking out to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” proving why they’ve been arguably the greatest rock and roll band in the world for nearly six decades. Mick sounded like peak-Jagger at age 76 while Keith Richards, 76, and Ronnie Wood, 72, rocked guitars in support. But it’s 78-year-old Charlie Watts who set off a social media frenzy when he showed up on screen not behind a drum set, but rather surrounded by multiple storage cases in lieu of drums. Everyone from fans on Twitter to journalists debated whether Watts was simply air-drumming to a taped track or if he was playing some sort of virtual drum set that mimics the sound of drums without a set present. It doesn’t really matter though, because either way Watts proved one of the highlights of the show. As one Canadian Twitter user named Shawna Rossi declared, “Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, not having a kit at home and basically playing air drums is the 2020 work from home mood that I didn’t know I needed.”
Elsewhere, Elton John, 73, performed his classic “I’m Still Standing” — apropos for the moment — with a hedge and basketball hoop behind him in his yard (also apropos for this work-from-home moment), and Paul McCartney, 77, played the Beatles standard “Lady Madonna” in honour of healthcare workers and in memory of his mother, who worked as a nurse and midwife. And Stevie Wonder, 69, played two songs — “Lean on Me,” in honour of his friend Bill Withers, who died on March 30, and his own “Love’s in Need of Love Today” from his legendary 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.
A Night for Nostalgia
A number of younger artists mined music catalogues from decades past for their performances, including Lady Gaga, who kicked off the broadcast with “Smile,” the tune composed by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film Modern Times, with lyrics added in 1954. Billie Eilish and brother Finneas performed Bobby Hebb’s 1963 song “Sunny,” Lizzo covered Sam Cooke’s 1964 tune “A Change Is Gonna Come,” John Legend and Sam Smith sang a duet on Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me”, Jennifer Hudson performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on a digital live stream that aired ahead of the television broadcast and Canuck pop superstar Shawn Mendes and singer-songwriter (and girlfriend) Camila Cabello shared one piano to perform Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
Celine and Andrea and Friends With the Big Finish
The evening culminated in a five-way performance of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer,” with the beloved 52-year-old Canadian singer and 61-year-old Italian opera legend — fresh off his Easter Music For Hope concert from the Duomo di Milano — joined by John Legend, Lady Gaga and accompanist Lang Lang on piano.
For a Few Hours, An Alternate Reality
Though touted (and broadcast) as a global event, the television portion of the concert was largely geared toward a U.S. audience and existed as if in an alternate universe, outside the realm of the bickering, blame-shifting and disorganization that’s characterized so much of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
Philip Rucker, the Washington Post’s White House Bureau Chief, tweeted that the messages gleaned from the broadcast, including “act selflessly & think of others, bring communities together, trust science, solidarity with other nations, celebrate the WHO” are a “departure from the messages at daily White House coronavirus briefings.”
The lauding of the World Health Organization on the broadcast is no surprise given the WHO helped present the show, but it comes in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s recent admonishments of the organization. The president himself announced last week that the U.S. will suspend funding to the WHO while it reviews its supposed role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus.” This is despite the fact that Trump repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus threat himself, including boasting in February that a miracle would make it disappear by April. A month later, the U.S. topped the world in coronavirus cases and as of April 19, had 728,094 cases and 34,726 deaths from the virus.
By contrast, the One World: Together at Home concert both celebrated and gave platforms to medical professionals, while superstars like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys both used their screen time to highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. disproportionately affects the African-American population — an often under-discussed issue. And while other celebrities, from Oprah Winfrey to Idris Elba — who himself contracted COVID-19 — and his wife, model Sabrina Dhowre Elba, and even Sesame Street muppet Abby Cadabby appeared on the show, no one representing the Trump administration was asked to address viewers from a political or global perspective. Instead, that duty went to two former first ladies — Michelle Obama and Laura Bush — to speak directly to their audience about the hope and resilience exhibited around the world in the face of the pandemic.
“The spirit and courage of the American people is most evident in times of crisis, and during this period of physical separation, we’ve never been closer. Not just in our great country, but tonight we stand with the people of the world,” Bush, 73, stated.
Obama, 56, added that, “The coming days will not be easy, but this global family of ours is strong. We will continue to be here for one another and we will get through this crisis. Together.”
And on Sunday, Global Citizen announced that “World leaders, corporate partners and philanthropists announced their support for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO, powered by the UN Foundation” and that the fund has so far raised US$127 million for everything from vaccine research to supporting healthcare workers around the world.
Those interested in donating to the fund can click here to do so.
Andrea Bocelli’s Music for Hope
On Easter Sunday (April 12), legendary Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli visited the empty Duomo di Milano in Milan, Italy and performed five songs at the request of both the city and the church.
“I believe in the strength of praying together; I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone — whether they are believers or not — truly needs right now,” the 61-year-old said in a statement on his YouTube page. “Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded Earth’s pulsing heart, this wonderful international forge that is reason for Italian pride.”
Bocelli’s performance included the songs “Amazing Grace,” “Ave Maria,” “Panis Angelicus,” “Sancta Maria” and “Domine Deus” and was live-streamed on YouTube. The nearly 25-minute performance also broke the record for “the biggest audience for a classical live stream in YouTube’s history,” according to Variety, with “over 2.8 million peak concurrent viewers” and “more than 28 million views worldwide in its first 24 hours.” As of this writing, more than 37 million people have viewed the performance on YouTube.
In a statement following the concert, Bocelli noted that he is “moved and delighted to have received such an overwhelming reaction that has gone beyond our highest expectations” and added that “It was an immeasurable honor and privilege to lend my voice to the prayers of millions of people, gathered in a single embrace — a small, great miracle of which the whole world was the protagonist and which confirms my optimism about the future of our planet.”
The singer is also raising funds to help support hospital staff in Italy — the European epicenter of COVID-19 — in their fight against the virus through his Andrea Bocelli Foundation.
Living Room Concert for America
Rock legend Elton John hosted iHeartMedia’s “Living Room Concert for America” from his Los Angeles home on March 29 — just four days after his 73rd birthday — to raise money for charities Feeding America and the Children Of First Responders Organization.
The roster of performers who participated from their own homes included Mariah Carey, the Backstreet Boys (who all performed from their respective homes but synched up their vocals), Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Dave Grohl, Canuck Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, Sam Smith, Tim McGraw and Demi Lovato. John, meanwhile, joked at the beginning of the hour-long broadcast that he was hosting from the one house he owns that doesn’t have a piano, broke out a keyboard that belongs to his sons to play the show off the air with a rendition of his hit tune “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
“The most inspirational thing about this situation is watching everybody join forces and help out,” John said on the broadcast, adding that he hoped “this entertainment will feed and fuel your soul.”
The broadcast ended up raising almost $8 million for charity.