Zooming with the Stars

Richard Weitz, B.A. ’91, organizes intimate, invite-only Zoom concerts that have become a way for celebrities to help their communities.

Image of Richard Weitz and his daughter, Demi.
Richard Weitz and his daughter, Demi, are the minds behind RWQuarantunes. (Courtesy Richard Weitz)
May 22, 2020

By Ruth Steinhardt

Richard Weitz is used to A-list events. A partner at entertainment agency William Morris Endeavor and co-head of its scripted television department, his client list includes Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, LL Cool J and more.

His most recent entertainment initiative doesn’t require black tie, or even changing out of pajamas. It’s RWQuarantunes, a private Zoom concert series at which music superstars from Smokey Robinson to Hozier entertain a star-studded guest list and raise money for nonprofit organizations. And for Mr. Weitz, the star of the show is his daughter, Demi, who has taken charge of much of the charitable project.

“I’m so proud of her and so indebted to her,” said Mr. Weitz, B.A. ’91.

RWQuarantunes began with a letdown. Searching for a creative way to celebrate Demi’s 17th birthday amid the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Weitz hired his favorite pianist to play a Zoom concert for her and a small group of friends. But the teenage attendees grew restless with the old-school playlist, so Mr. Weitz expanded the invitation to some of his own friends and colleagues—friends like actor and musician LL Cool J.

The energy swelled. Mr. Weitz began to wonder if he’d found a way for people to connect and find comfort while sheltering at home.

“The next day we thought ‘That was really fun, let’s do it again,’” Mr. Weitz said. “So I started booking friends and friends of friends who were artists, and they became these mini-concerts.”

As the gatherings continued, the guest list expanded, including actress Amy Adams, singer Josh Groban and legendary producer Clive Davis. Musician Debbie Gibson was one invitee, and another guest invited John Mayer, who turned out to be a longtime fan of Ms. Gibson’s. The musicians struck up a long-distance jam session, including singing “Happy Birthday” to Demi. The most recent RWQuarantunes session featured at-home performances by Gloria Gaynor, Barry Manilow, Seal and more. Guitarist Carlos Santana and his wife, drummer Cindy Blackman, performed from their residence in Hawaii and were joined briefly by vocalist Rob Thomas, who chimed in on 1999 megahit "Smooth" from his own home.

It was Demi who suggested they use the gatherings as an opportunity to raise money for charity. She set up a GoFundMe page immediately, setting a goal of $10,000 for Los Angeles’ Saban Community Clinic. By April 9, they had raised over $120,000.

RWQuarantunes has now raised over $3 million for charities around the country. Demi has taken charge of much of the operation, including taking calls from the leaders of major nonprofits like the United Way.

“It might have fizzled out if she hadn’t taken the initiative right at the beginning in that moment,” said Mr. Weitz, ”And still, the reason it works so well is because Demi has the time to dedicate to it.”

The success of RWQuarantunes isn’t the first time in his career that Mr. Weitz has seen a fluke pay off. After graduating from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 1991 with a B.A. in communications, he set off for Los Angeles without plans or connections. He was rejected for jobs at two major agencies, but ended up in the mailroom at a smaller, scrappier company. There, he worked his way to an assistantship as the smaller firm ended up merging with a larger one, which purchased the two that had rejected him. A year and a half later, at age 24, he became an agent—effectively ending up in a job that initially turned him down.

“With all things, you never know who’s going to be who and what’s going to lead to what,” Mr. Weitz said.

In some ways RWQuarantunes links back to Mr. Weitz’s student days at GW, when he attended concerts at Washington, D.C., landmarks like the Howard Theatre and D.A.R. Constitution Hall.

“Several of the artists I saw then I’ve had on the program and gotten to tell them what an inspiration they’ve been,” Mr. Weitz said, including Earth, Wind and Fire and singer-songwriter Taylor Dayne.

Mr. Weitz was about to take Demi on her first East Coast college visits when the pandemic caused shutdowns across the country. And while he’s disappointed to have to postpone this rite of passage, in some ways he’s grateful for the time the pandemic, and RWQuarantunes, have afforded him.

”I would never have been able to have the time I’ve had with both of my children and the intimacy I’ve had specifically with Demi if it weren’t for this pandemic,” he said. “She in some regards has become a mini-celebrity, but more importantly she’s become a role model for the people who are on these calls, and for their daughters.

“That to me is what’s so meaningful, and that’s what makes it super, super special. As a father, to see your daughter grow is amazing—and the whole community has been watching her go from this goal of $10,000 to $2.6 million and counting in six weeks.”

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