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Posted 07.08.20

'United We Sing': Oprah, Tim McGraw, Brad Pitt, more join Harry to thank essential workers

by Gary Dinges of USA TODAY


Harry Connick Jr. hit the road to help lift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic.

In "United We Sing: A Grammy Tribute to Unsung Heroes," the singer and filmmaker daughter Georgia Connick hopped in an RV and traveled 1,300 miles, visiting with essential workers across the US. The special aired Sunday night on CBS.

Celebrities making appearances included Brad Pitt, Drew Brees, Oprah Winfrey, Tim McGraw and Queen Latifah.

Connick opened the show by telling viewers it had been taped several weeks ago, prior to the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests nationwide, acknowledging that coronavirus was no longer the only issue weighing on the minds of Americans.

Here are some memorable moments from the two-hour broadcast:


Meet Connick's sister, the doctor

Connick's first stop was at Queens Medical Center in New York, where we met his sister, Dr. Suzanna Jamison.

The two stood a safe distance apart, both wearing masks and gloves.

"This is the strangest meeting I've ever had with you in my life," the singer told his sister. "Not hugging her is killing me."

Jamison said she was called in in late March, and has essentially been working nonstop since then.

"The stress level is high, but I think it's a good kind of stress," she said. "There's a sense that you're helping and a sense of accomplishment."


Tennessee trucker team hits the highways

In Tennessee, Connick met husband and wife truckers Kim and Michael Frasier.

The two work for Covenant Transport and have been busier than ever, hauling food and supplies to retailers nationwide.

Kim Frasier said that since the pandemic began, she's noticed there's more respect for truckers.

"People are a lot nicer," she said. "They're looking out for each other, more considerate."

Connick surprised the duo with a FaceTime call from McGraw, who said he spent a chunk of his childhood traveling with his stepdad, a trucker.

"You guys are the backbone, the heartbeat of keeping this country alive," McGraw said. "We can't appreciate you enough."


In New Jersey, a teacher is praised

Not every student at Irvington High School in Newark, New Jersey, has internet access, so teacher Aaysha Notice has been taking homework to their houses to help keep them on track.

Notice told Connick it took her multiple tries to pass her teaching exam, so she knows what it's like to fall behind and fail — and that helps her empathize with her students.

"Failure helped me be a better person, a better teacher," she said.

Queen Latifah, who attended Irvington High School, made a quick appearance to thank Notice. The singer said her mother was a teacher at the school.

"My mom was a teacher when I was a student and she refused to have me in her class," she said. "She said, 'I don't want to teach you and be your mother.' "

Queen Latifah called Notice a hero and told Connick that she needed a pay raise.


Oprah Winfrey teams up with Boys & Girls Club

Connick stopped by the Boys & Girls Club in Kosciusko, Mississippi, where workers are feeding hundreds of needy children each day.

They've been busy delivering food since schools shut down due to the coronavirus.

The facility is named for Winfrey, who made a FaceTime appearance to thank those making sure children are fed.

"They are heroes," she said. "They have been the essential workers helping feed kids who otherwise wouldn't have meals."


Drew Brees thanks firefighters

In Wytheville, Virginia, Connick stopped to visit with firefighters.

Fire chief Marc Brade told the singer the department has taken a number of extra precautions due to COVID-19, even temporarily benching a firefighter whose son is immunocompromised.

"This is what we do," Brade said. "Everyone has a function in society. Ours happens to be fire rescue."

The New Orleans Saints quarterback made an appearance to thank the firefighters.

"I know these last couple months have been absolutely insane," Brees said. "You guys really are the true heroes."

The NFL star said he and his wife have been busy during quarantine, homeschooling their four children.

"I'm basically the resident PE and math teacher," he joked.


Brad Pitt greets New Orleans sanitation worker

In his hometown of New Orleans, Connick introduced us to sanitation worker Darnell Rudolph.

Asked if he thought he was a hero, Rudolph said he did.

"You've got people out here conscious about the COVID and yet they want to come out and perform their job duties and I think it's truly amazing," he said.

Pitt, whose affinity for New Orleans is well known, agreed. The actor said he's been taking time to thank essential workers daily.

"Every night at 8, I go out on the porch," Pitt said. "My entire neighborhood gets up and claps and cheers and bangs pots for what you're doing. We so appreciate you being on the front lines."


Follow Gary Dinges on Twitter @gdinges