| By Angie Ledbetter
Pledges in excess of $15 million poured in during and after the "Mississippi Rising" concert at the University of Mississippi on Saturday.
The gala, which raised money to help the state’s victims of Hurricane Katrina, was organized by Mississippi native Sam Haskell, who said Monday that 11,000 calls were received from viewers of the telecast.
The event was co-chaired by Mississippi natives Morgan Freeman, Brett Favre, Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Faith Hill, Sela Ward, and John Grisham.
A sell-out crowd of 4,000 attended, and thousands more watched the live broadcast on MS-NBC and local stations.
The stars came from everywhere. Their motto was, "We want to help Mississippi."
Some had never been to Mississippi before now and they were impressed with the hospitality. Celebrities took viewers’ pledges from a phone bank.
Actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in Tallahatchie County, opened the show. With tears in his eyes, he said, "We are down, but we are not out. We will rise again."
Four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Faith Hill, a native of Star, said she was glad to be back in Mississippi. She showed up for the event just a little while before it started in a striped button down shirt and blue jeans. She performed in all black attire.
She said, "I can tell you that I have been all over the world and there is not a person in this state that wouldn’t give you the shirt off of their back. It is a great place to be raised."
She said that the very first place that she sang was at church in Mississippi and it was the last place that she sang before she left.
"It started my love for music."
She sang her new release, "Mississippi Girl," but topped it off with "Precious Lord."
Doug Davidson from daytime soap "The Young & Restless" said this was his second trip to Mississippi.
"Actually, it is beautiful here," he said. "This is quite a campus and very impressive. We hope that we can raise money and get people’s lives back to normal."
Steve Azar, who is from Greenville graduated from Delta State University.
"It’s an honor to do this benefit. I am moved to be a part of this."
He performed "Flatlands."
The Mississippi Mass Choir from Jackson performed "Amazing Grace" and "I’m Not Tired Yet?" bringing the entire house to its feet.
Other Mississippians who returned to perform included Delta Burke, who graduated from the University of Mississippi where she was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Mississippi native Sela Ward took a trip to her hometown of Meridian before the gala and Lance Bass visited his hometown of Laurel.
Others appearing at the event included: Ray Romano, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, Marilu Henner, Pam Tillis, Kathy Ireland, Gerald McRaney, Jean Smart, Debbie Allen, Doris Roberts, Gary Morris, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Laurie Hickson-Smith, Brian McKnight, Deidra Hall, Allison Sweeney, Peter Reckell, Kristian Alfonso, Greg Rikaart, Melody Thomas Scott, Michelle Stafford, Mary Ann Mobley, Gary Collins, Guy Hovis, Gary Grubbs, Mary Haskell, Jill Conner Brown, Miss Mississippi 2005 Kristian Danbrino, Gail Pittman, Cat Cora, Governor and Mrs. Haley Barbour, Macy Gray, B.B. King (taped), Senator Trent Lott, the Ole Miss Company Singers, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns, and University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat.
Donations can still be made at the Web site .
Sam Haskell is former worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency. Lanny Griffith, who also helped organize the event, is with a Washington lobby firm.
Panolian staff member Rita Howell contributed to this story.