12:49pm PT by Chris Gardner
From $10K to $10M: How WME's Richard Weitz’s “Quarantunes” Pandemic Concert Series Hit Biggest Milestone Yet
In March, as safer at home directives set in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WME partner Richard Weitz scrambled to find a way to celebrate daughter Demi’s 17th birthday. With in-person gatherings considered unsafe, there were limited options so, like many, he turned to Zoom and opened up his Rolodex.
His first call was to a Chicago piano player named Dario Giraldo, who agreed to log on and entertain a select group of friends, family and Demi’s teenage peers, but the youth didn’t ultimately take to the virtual concert. Instead of giving up, Richard tested the format over multiple sessions by inviting artists to perform for industry peers, simply as a way to connect. Then Demi came up with an idea to create a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Saban Community Clinic for which her father serves as president of the board.
An initial goal of $10,000 was set and to both of their surprise, it was exceeded that night. They kept going, and over six months, the concert series — dubbed Quarantunes or RWQuarantunes — became one of Hollywood’s buzziest private invites and one of the most powerful philanthropic initiatives. Millions of dollars have continued to pour in as they’ve hosted a who’s who of C-suite executives, producers, talent and well over 300 singers, songwriters and entertainers. They've shined a spotlight on COVID-19 relief and social justice organizations, hosted cast members from Hamilton, gathered a Malcolm in the Middle reunion, welcomed EGOT winners like John Legend and introduced rising stars like Jac Ross.
On Saturday night, the Weitzes passed their biggest milestone yet, crossing the $10 million mark, and it was announced Saturday night at the top of the latest virtual outing from their kitchen — during the 14th annual Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Evening Before Party to celebrate this weekend’s Emmy Awards in partnership with Jeffrey Katzenberg, People and Target. Demi had the honor of doling out the good news.
“This started in late March for my birthday,” she said, opening up with a brief recap of the journey. “One day, I said, ‘Dad, we need to raise money for this — let’s raise $10,000,’ and that's where our little platform, our community turned fun turned into fundraising. When I set out to raise $10,000, I never expected the rapid amount of support, and I’m so excited to announce that after our Big Brothers Big Sisters event, RWQuarantunes has raised $10 million!”
The announcement received cheers from the virtual crowd that would exceed 500 over the course of the evening with many more watching a live feed at the MPTF home in Woodland Hills. And it marked yet another major moment for Richard and Demi as the king and queen of pandemic philanthropy linked up with the king of Hollywood philanthropy in Katzenberg.
“Tonight’s the night we get to celebrate the best of the best of our television industry and tonight everybody is a winner,” said the Quibi chief, adding that he and wife Marilyn would be matching every dollar raised towards an ultimate goal of $1.5 million. “I want to thank Demi and her father, who is known is ‘Demi Weitz’s father.’ They are going to be our hosts and our guides tonight. … What she’s accomplished is amazing.”
The adjective was called upon again and again in the Zoom chat box to describe the show that followed. DJ Cassidy kicked it off with a mix of classic TV theme songs from Golden Girls to Friends, and was followed by Robin Thicke who sang acapella clips of Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life theme songs, both of which were penned by his father, actor and composer Alan Thicke, and sung by his mother Gloria Loring.
The program continued with longtime MPTF supporter George Clooney, who said that there have been no positive COVID-19 cases at the MPTF home for 23 weeks straight, a victory that “speaks to the determination and compassion and all of the people working on that campus to keep our home safe. It is our home. It is our family.”
Clooney was followed by Emmy nominated Succession star Jeremy Strong; performer Bryan Adams with “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman”; Emmy nominated star and co-creator Dan Levy introduced Schitt’s Creek star and singer Noah Reid with a rendition of Tina Turner’s “The Best” which he performed on the hit series; presenter and nominated star Octavia Spencer who introduced performer and Emmy winner Billy Porter with a version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth”; the return of buzzworthy new artist Jac Ross with a cover of John Legend’s “All of Me” followed by his viral anthem “It’s OK to be Black.”
Also on the show: Longtime MPTF supporter Yvette Nicole Brown; Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan introducing TV mogul Seth MacFarlane who performed “Isn’t This a Lovely Day” and Frank Sinatra’s “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)”; veteran Quarantunes supporter Josh Gad (who traded lines with MacFarlane in his Olaf voice from Frozen with MacFarlane returning the favor as Stewie from Family Guy; and Emmy nominee Ramy Yousef introducing a taped performance from John Legend; and Siedah Garrett with a medley that included Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.”
DJ Cassidy also returned to present Pass the Mic: Volume Two, a series he created by calling on legends, friends and mentors and in the R&B and hip-hop communities to tap into the nostalgia of legendary tracks. This installment featured 36 artists, and for Quarantunes, he edited it down to feature a parade of some of the biggest names in the hip-hop community virtually “passing the mic” performing snippets of their biggest tracks. LL Cool J, Rev Run of Run DMC, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Salt N’ Pepa, Arrested Development, Naughty by Nature, Kid ‘n Play, Doug E. Fresh, and Young MC, among others, were featured and many of those artists were on live to celebrate the spectacle.
Based on the praise in the chatbox and the cheers afterward, it was another mic drop moment for Quarantunes, and it capped off a big week for the Weitz duo that displayed the versatility of what they’ve created and how it has transformed virtual fundraising in a COVID-19 world. Last weekend, they teamed with the International Tennis Hall of Fame for a special edition of the series following the U.S. Open Women’s Final. Even newly-crowned winner Naomi Osaka logged on, as did tennis insiders like Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, Mary Joe Fernandez, and dozens of others.
Days later, on Thursday evening, Richard and Demi were honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles during the org’s “The Big Night In” virtual gala. They were presented with the Walt Disney Philanthropists of the Year Award from the studio’s executive chairman Bob Iger. “Walt Disney was fond of saying, ‘it’s kind of fun to do the impossible,’” Iger said in his speech. “You have demonstrated the truth of Walt’s words in a very real, very very tangible way.”
After the awards program, the duo hosted a private afterparty online dedicated to the Disney catalog and featuring artists like Michael Bolton, Vanessa Williams, Peabo Bryson, Jodi Benson and Auli’I Cravalho singing classic Disney songs. And it was the latest honor for the Weitz household: Earlier, Demi received the Champion for Girls Award from Girls Inc., as a way to honor her contributions while finding her own voice as an activist.
For the father-daughter duo, the real award has been shining a spotlight on nonprofits throughout the pandemic, from COVID-19 relief and social justice organizations to boots-on-the-ground initiatives across Los Angeles and the United States. “Brick by brick and dollar by dollar, that’s what is most important,” Richard tells THR of reaching the $10 million milestone for their charity partners these past six months. “And we’re not done yet.”