America: A Tribute To Heroes was a two hour, commercial free simulcast on thirty one television networks in order to raise money for victims of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. It was broadcast live on the evening of September 21, 2001 from London, New York City, and Los Angeles, and featured a nearly unparalleled collection of music and film stars, either performing music or answering the phones.
In terms of a strictly musical performance, the show was absolutely fantastic. The show opened with Bruce Springsteen performing an acoustic version of his hauntingly appropriate recent hit My City In Ruins, and closed with the venerable Willie Nelson and an all-star chorus perhaps unmatched since We Are The World performing America The Beautiful.
Other noteworthy musical performers and performances included Neil Young's rendition of John Lennon's Imagine, Wyclef Jean performed Bob Marley's Redemption Song, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did a low-key but defiant version of their hit I Won't Back Down, Celine Dion returned from semi-retirement to perform God Bless America, and Mariah Carey made her first public appearance after her mental breakdown. Also performing were Stevie Wonder, U2, Sting, Faith Hill, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel, The Dixie Chicks, Bon Jovi, and Paul Simon.
The phone lines were manned by a large staff of volunteers, including a large number of American film stars, including Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny DeVito, and Whoopi Goldberg. Other stars, such as Chris Rock, George Clooney, Dennis Franz, Jimmy Smits, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Ray Romano, Kelsey Grammer, Julia Roberts, Amy Brenneman, Sela Ward, Jane Kaczmarek, Calista Flockhart, Robert DeNiro, Will Smith, Muhammad Ali, and Clint Eastwood made appearances during the program, asking for donations, and perhaps also working the telephones.
The show location was never released other than the name of the cities providing the performances. This was done to increase the security of the show and avoid another potentially heartbreaking disaster.
The two hour show followed a general format of alternating musical performances with short appearances by non-musical celebrities telling stories of some of the many heroic individuals of September 11. With no commercial interruptions and this all-live alternating format providing some clear production challenges, the entire program went on virtually without a gaffe.
It was apparent throughout the show that the emphasis was on muted dignity over bellicose flag-waving. Most of the performances were low key and very emotionally done. No tote board and no host. No studio audience and applause. Just a backdrop of lighted candles, and lots of them. It was done with a strong degree of respect, dignity, and taste. It was something that fit the moment perfectly; a moment of reflection on the pain of the recent past and hope for the future.