Stars gather to cover We Are the World for Haiti
Pink, Natalie Cole, Kanye West, Jennifer Hudson, Céline Dion, Brian Wilson and others stood shoulder-to-shoulder on risers at Henson Recording studios Monday night to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief.
"This one, the enthusiasm, I've never seen anything like it," said Lionel Richie, who wrote the original with Michael Jackson, who died in June at age 50.
Richie oversaw the new version with music mogul Quincy Jones, 76.
Jones, who produced the 1985 anthem, announced last week that he planned to redo the song to benefit recovery efforts after the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12.
We Are the World — 25 for Haiti will premiere this month during coverage of the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games on NBC, according to a release from promoter AEG Live.
At one point during a break, the musicians broke out into an a cappella version of Lean on Me, a classic moment jump-started by singer Melanie Fiona leaning on another artist because her feet were tired.
Gesturing with her hands, and shifting her headphones from ear to ear, Barbra Streisand recorded her solo over and over, completely absorbed in the recording process and stopping only to correct her pitch.
Later, a who's who of rappers, including Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J and Wyclef Jean, recorded an interlude written by Black Eyed Peas frontman and producer will.i.am.
Rapper Lil Wayne said he was blessed to record the tune but was surprised when told he would do Bob Dylan's part from the original.
"I don't know how to sing," he said with a smile.
Asked how the earthquake had affected him, he said he had Haitian friends in Miami who lost relatives in the disaster.
Original funded African relief
The original We Are the World thundered up the charts when it was released in March 1985.
An unprecedented number of top pop musicians gathered at A&M the night of Jan. 28, 1985, following the American Music Awards, to record the tune. The song featured 45 American superstars, including Jackson, Richie, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper.
The record raised more than $30 million US for USA for Africa, a non-profit organization the singers founded to fund hunger relief in Africa.
None of the original performers returned Monday because none was asked, said Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live and also Richie's manager.
"This is about a new generation mixed with an old generation," Phillips said.
Proceeds initially are to go to the newly formed charity We Are the World Foundation LLC, and then be distributed to Haiti.
Some top music names were either unavailable or chose not to re-record the original, Phillips said. Taylor Swift's touring schedule kept her from joining, and Beyoncé had returned to New York with husband Jay-Z, he said. Janet Jackson, who was out of town, will contribute vocals remotely, he said.
Filmed by Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, the event was shot using 3-D cameras, a futuristic twist from the 1985 version. A few people dressed in head-to-toe green stood next to the celebrities as place holders so viewers would eventually be able to insert themselves into the star crowd, Jones said.
Josh Groban, flush from doing his high-flying solo, said: "I can only hope this can have the impact the original has had."