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An all-star 'We Are the World' remake for Haiti relief

we are the world haiti geoff boucher michael jackson

Twenty-five years after the all-star recording of "We Are the World" became a signature moment in celebrity altruism and pop-music history, a new collective of stars came together Monday at the same Hollywood recording studio to record a new version for Haiti earthquake relief.

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Just as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan descended on the A&M Studios on La Brea to sing for famine relief in Africa, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Kanye West and Keith Urban turned up at the same soundstage (now called Henson Recording Studios) to join an all-star chorus that was 100 voices strong.

The 1985 effort, called USA for Africa, raised  $63 million and became a template for famous-face fundraising. The new single will premiere Feb. 12 on NBC during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics with the hope that the download single can help funnel aid into the ravaged island nation.

The anniversary project had been quietly planned for months and was scheduled for the day after the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards to maximize celebrity availability. The plan veered sharply, though, after the Jan. 12 temblor in Haiti: Instead of more relief for Africa, the organizers switched gears and turned their cause to the Caribbean.

The scene on Monday, like the original session, was a fascinating mix of star confluence.

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Where else would 83-year-old Tony Bennett sing in unison with 15-year-old Justin Bieber? Emphasizing the cross-generational representation, the choir featured two Beach Boys (Brian Wilson and Al Jardine) and three Jonas Brothers (Nick, Joe and Kevin).

Some newly minted stars, such as Zac Brown, whose band won the best new artist Grammy on Sunday, seemed a bit wide-eyed to be milling in the sweltering recording room with the likes of Carlos Santana, who recorded a searing guitar solo for the single early in the six-hour session.

"It's like standing in the classic records section at the Turtles music store looking at all the covers," Brown said. "It's ridiculous and it's wonderful and for a good cause."

Other performers included Pink, Jeff Bridges, Vince Vaughn, Usher, Akon, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Toni Braxton, Snoop Dogg and Josh Groban.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening, a collection of music-industry elite mingled in a brick-lined courtyard watching the work at the microphone inside. It wasn't all glamour -- Gladys Knight, unaware that she was on camera, was filmed applying makeup during one break. While everyone else took a break for dinner, Streisand stayed behind to work on her solo, struggling to find the right tone and phrasing.

It became a bit monotonous hearing the diva run through the same 21-word section more than two dozen times. But she didn't seem to mind: "I didn't come all this way just to do one," she said after one take.

The original recording session on Jan. 28, 1985, featured 46 pop and rock stars, including Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and Willie Nelson. The song "We Are the World" was written by Jackson and Lionel Richie, and the single was produced by Quincy Jones, who also helped put together Monday's anniversary session.

After Streisand's solo time, the whole choir reconvened. Under the direction of Paul Haggis, the filmmaker best known for "Crash," the most star-packed cast on the planet made a music video while facing a swooping camera. At front and center was Wyclef Jean, a former member of the Fugees and a defining presence in the public life of his native Haiti, especially in recent weeks.

"We're doing this for the cameras," Haggis told his charges.

In the rear, Vaughn and Harry Connick Jr., both known as charismatic wiseguys, seemed to be enjoying a chuckle. In the center of the group, Streisand stood arm in arm with Black Eyed Peas singer will.i.am, and just an arm's reach from Dion, the closest thing in sight to an inheritor of her genre throne.

There was a ripple of curiosity in a media tent set up in an adjacent compound when two people dressed in lime-colored masks and body socks joined the singalong. Clearly, the extras were green-screen place holders, digital "blank spots" for people who would be added later by a visual effects team. Would it be the late Michael Jackson? An absent Bono or Janet Jackson?

Apparently not. The word at the event was that the green people were keeping a spot for Santana, who had to leave before the evening video shoot, and 67-year-old Wilson, who was having trouble standing throughout the marathon session.

Groban, stepping out from the studio for a break, said he was a bit bewildered by the crazy-quilt crowd, genre-wise.

"I'm standing there between Tony Bennett and Bizzy," he said, referring to the jazz icon and the member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. "That's not ever really going to happen again."

Groban said the small talk between takes was especially riveting. "Everyone is talking about what they're working on next. It's fascinating," he said, just as Dion and her husband-manager, Rene Angelil, walked by with a wave.

Some stars weren't eager to talk to reporters. West, the hip-hop firebrand, smiled and said, "It's a good cause," and left it at that.

Jean, on the other hand, spoke to all who would listen. He talked emotionally about his own journey, as a young Haitian immigrant working at Burger King and falling in love with the music of  Richie. "I'm like a kid in a candy shop," he said of the gallery of music heroes.

Jean had one overriding response to the night: "I just want to thank everyone. Haiti thanks you. The world thanks you."

-- Geoff Boucher

Photos: First - In 1985, a who's who of pop recorded the Michael Jackson-Lionel Richie song 'We Are The World' to benefit the hungry in drought-plagued Africa. Credit: Associated Press. Second - In 2010, celebrities gather at the "We Are The World 25 Years for Haiti" recording session held at Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, California. Credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage.

 
Comments () | Archives (36)

This is incredible! What a cast! Prior reports weren't listing acts nearly as compelling. I can't wait to see what they will do with the green bodysuits.

Michael Jackson fans, discuss here: http://www.positivelymichael.com/forums/

How exciting! I look forward to hearing the single when it comes out.

Yes! Was so hoping that this would be done again. Thank you, all you stars.

This is the most bazaar group of people I have ever seen together. What are the non singing actors doing there? Why can't they just get artists who actually have some pipes and sing a decent rendition of this song? I don't see the names of the better singers here. And yes, I have already made my contribution to this cause many times and over.

It's always those damn, Godless libruls like Streisand, etc., raising money to help perfectly able-bodied people out of a crisis. You know, God helps those who help themselves...

Seriously, has anyone EVER seen Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, or Ann Coulter ever use their fame, fortune or clout to help humanity or assist in a disaster?

Yeah. I thought so.

If I needed a bad case of indegestion... I just got it. I just don't see any of these intolerant people giving one darn about anyone in Haiti. It seems to me it is just an shameless excuse for self-promotion from selfish people.

ok, now, we are the world without Michael Jackson? What the hell is that. It's not gonna be the same without him, technology can sync his voice into the song you fools. Should've had his voice in their, it's not gonna be as infuential and as in effect because The King Of Pop is not there, why, because, There's a star, there's a superstar, there's a megastar, then you have Michael Jackson.

Great article. Especially appreciated the 2 comparative photos.

Why isn't Adam Lambert there? He can out sing most of those people.

What about the rest of the world?

thetruthurts

I was living in S.E. Alaska on a small island "Annette Island" in 1983 when "We are the world" first came out,I played the song so much that my cassette tape finally stopped working,didn't have CD's yet,I am really looking forward to the new remake and I hope Michaels sister Janet will participate as well in this new one!

Well now I've seen it all. Hollywood is officially out of original ideas. Remaking a "send in your money" song? Unbelievable!!! No one can come up with an original NEW song?

Sure, just sing a song, and all your liberal guilt will just melt away.

Helping Haiti is needed, but how about "We are the world" for America's unemployed and hungry?

It's a good cause, but this collection of artists is ridiculous.

Kayne WHY?
This guy was disrespectful towards Michael that he does not deserve to be there singing one of his songs. Why disrespect someone who is gone and then have the nerve to show your face for the remaking of one of his songs.
Kayne your an A** and just do not know how to stay away.
This is for a great cause but lets face it Kayne is there for himself and not the cause. He needs to keep his drunken a** home.
I am not a Kayne hater just do not like the guy on a personal level because he lacks respect towards his peers within the misic industry. I believe that he is talented but source your negativism into something good. Your Music.

Someone give Streisand a bail of hay and put her in the barn

Originally it was a heartfelt outpouring of sympathy and support. Now, although those considerations are probably somewhere in the mix, I think it's just another brick in the public relations wall. "You've just got to be in the new Haiti video...."

I'd just like to say, yes it's a great cause and everyone should join in on this project but I remember the original being sung by more acomplished singers, yeah there were a few throw ins in the old one too, but why Lil wayne? Tpain? Akon? those guys gotta be the worst, yeah they move units and maybe thats why they are picked for this, just my 2 cents, good to see everyone come out for this.

ALL of the money raised in the 1980's was STOLEN by the corrupt warlords.

None of the money reached the victims. History repeats itself.

What next? "Bake Sales" for Obama's Debt & Stash?

i dont like it cause they got rappers in their and people like taylor swift who cant sing for real. they should've just had accually singers with great talent..like tina turner,gladys night, whitney houston, stevie wonder, and etc. the people who did the song back in 1985.that version was better.this one seems like its gonna be a diaster. they coulda put some of MJ's family member in there.(add more family members of his)i think is gonna suck. im glad they are doin something to help people in Haiti.They should put people from back then who made real good music.

I can't wait to illegally download this song.

From a photography standpoint, in the '85 image, the people are actually paying attention to each other. In the new collection, it's more like a collection of statues and icons jutting up next to each other. Very little humanity, and zero connection. Com'on guys, feel free to wrinkle each other's pretty costumes, and actually connect.

WOW! so many negative people here, this is a positive assembly of artist coming together to help the people of Haiti and all you people can do is talk trash, well that's America for you, DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T!

I'd be so embarrassed to be a part of this monstrosity.

 
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