James Taylor performed “Sweet Baby James” and other classic rock favorites at Sean Penn & Friends Haiti Rising Gala benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organization at Milk Studios on Saturday (Jan. 6) in Hollywood. At the pre-Golden Globes gala, Leonardo DiCaprio was honored for his continued leadership on combating climate change.
Before singing “Sweet Baby James,” Taylor explained where the 1970 song came from. “My nephew was named after me, little baby James. I was overseas, and when I returned to these shores, my brother, Alex, had had a kid. It was amazing and I asked him, ‘What do you intend to name him?’ It was the first child born to our generation, so we were excited about it, and he said, ‘Well, you know, I think we might name him after you, ‘little baby James.’ So I drove down to North Carolina myself, and on the way down this song sort of came to me. I was thinking, ‘What would be a good song to sing to a little man-child like that,’ and in those days, it had to be a cowboy lullaby, you know, the stinky little buckaroo kind of thing.
“It’s really an excellent effort tonight,” Taylor said of the gala. “Haiti has been the neglected child of the western hemisphere for such a long time, and it’s in such need of our help, and in the absence of any real concern or compassion from our government, it’s really up to us, so I would encourage you to give away, double up. It’s funny because when you find an example of an organization such as this one, Sean has started and has been so true to and so loyal to and so steadfast, and it’s an opportunity to do something that’s a great chance, a great opportunity to do something really positive. We just have to support him in this effort that he’s got rolling. That’s all we need to do.”
He also recalled learning one of his signature hits from his friend Carole King.
“[Carol] was playing her second gig at the Troubadour. I was on my third, and we were sharing the bill, and she had just written this beautiful song about friendship [‘You’ve Got a Friend’]. I was amazed when I heard it. I didn’t waste any time. I ran. I didn’t walk; I ran to find my guitar and to learn the thing myself. I didn’t realize, of course, at the time that I would be singing it every single night the rest of my entire life. But you know, it’s a good one, because you can do it alone.”
James finished the night’s performance with his hits “Carolina In My Mind” and “How Sweet It Is.”
Madonna donated to the live auction a Jeremy Scott-designed Moschino dress costume she wore on her 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour. Sofia Boutella performed on stage then went down to the tables dancing behind Brad Pitt, Penn and DiCaprio, with Pitt dancing on his seat. The item was sold for more than $35K and the entire evening raised almost four million.
DiCaprio got serious on stage while accepting his honor and talked about the incredible opposition from our government regarding climate change.
He also praised his friend Sean Penn: “He was in Haiti to provide medicine to the sick and suffering people and to clean up the toxic water and sanitation systems in the face of bureaucracy after the earthquake. This type of action speaks to his profound commitment to action to making measurable and tangible differences on the ground. Following the earthquake in 2010, many of us, just like me, we were all moved to respond. We were moved to donate to this horrendous tragedy. Millions of dollars were given to many organizations, and truthfully, much of that funding ended up not reaching the affected communities where it was needed most. Meanwhile, Sean was there. He was working directly with the impacted people. He was solving problems day in and day out and building trust with a network of people who are actually changing lives. His heart and his commitment are what created JPHRO. It’s an incredible organization, and it’s known for solving the most complex problems with tangible long-term solutions from communities in Haiti, so thank you, Sean, for your leadership.”
DiCaprio continued: “When I first got to meet Al Gore in 1997, I followed him by meeting scientists and climate leaders around the world and I had the opportunity to highlight their message in my documentary Before the Flood. We knew that our foundation had to address this challenge, too, especially as these warnings by the scientists continue to keep coming true.”
Lots of stars came to support, including Jeff Bezos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tobey Maguire, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Casey Affleck, Jason Segel, Mark Burnett, Spike Jonze and Lena Dunham. Beck stopped by Brad Pitt’s table. Brad was very happy to see him and they talked for a while.
The event was co-hosted by Sean Penn, Bryan Lourd, and Alexandra & Sean Parker, and sponsored by Lynne & Marc Benioff.