Celine Dion and an all-star band of country royalty became bookends for the most stirring performances of the 2016 televised campaign effort for Stand Up To Cancer on Sept. 9. With the increased bombardment of fundraising across social media, and viewing habits now customized to personal schedules, the weakening of the surge of support that swept the country for the first shared telecast in 2008 is sadly explainable. What should never, and can never be explained away, is the hundreds of thousands who are still lost to cancer every day. Thankfully, the Stand Up to Cancer 2016 concert helps us to not only remember, but to also fight against such a terrible disease.
After a bit of a technical hiccup with Charlie Puth at the beginning of the show, the music switched to Nashville and the Ryman Auditorium, country’s “mother church,” where stars were already assembled in full force for the Academy of Country Music Honors, televised for the first time. Keith Urban had already accepted an award of his own, recognizing his charitable involvement, and impact on those in need from the country music community. He then took to stage with Dierks Bentley and Little Big Town to offer a lovely and lofty rendition of “Heroes,” from Bowie's 1977 album of the same title. David Bowie succumbed to liver cancer in early January this year, and perhaps no one inhabited those lyrics more fully. Still, when Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman joined their voices with Urban and Bentley’s magic harmony and meaning was created.
Celine Dion capped the evening with a completely personal story and captivating performance of “Recovering,” an original song written by Pink, and offered to Dion while still reeling in grief from the loss of husband, René Angelil (who succumbed to cancer after his years-long struggle with throat cancer). Only two days later, she lost brother, Daniel, to brain, tongue, and throat cancer. Blowing a kiss to Tom Hanks upon her introduction, Dion seemed to be seeking strength for the moment. She launched into the lyrics, affirming “little by little, day by day, one step at a time, shake off the devil, take back my peace of mind, I am recovering.”
With meaning relevant both for those in a battle for life, whether against cancer, addiction, or depths of mental illness, and for those at their side, millions received the message of hope. Tender family photos filled screens behind her. The entire venue at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was in awed silence, until the last echo of the last note. Then came an honored ovation of applause that would have continued on for many minutes, had it not been for Bradley Cooper's escort of the acclaimed singer from the stage.
$100 million came from that original 2008 broadcast, and there is still a battle for survival that grows more costly on every level. Perhaps the power of the words in songs will spur on science and generosity even more after the this 2016 event.