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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.


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.


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)

Way to go...It is great to see everyone come together for a great cause. Can't wait to hear the full tune.

I dont feel they should have re-made this without Michael. Why didnt they do this when he was alive and the singers for this are wack. What a mockery.

I love the idea of doing a modern remake of this song (although it will never top the original) but could they have at least gotten talented singers? What's with all of the rappers and hip-hop artists. Not to mention Santana who is a fantastic guitar player but last I checked he hires other people to sing on his behalf! They should have taken the best of the current singers and combined them with former members who still have it. Why not bring back Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, etc. and maybe try and dub Michael Jackson in because it doesn't seem right without him. This COULD have been really amazing but there are just too many bad seeds in that line-up. People will look back on this and laugh rather than how everyone looks back on the 1985 version in awe.

I think the original song sounds alot better. But on the other hand, I hope that they raise enough money to support Haiti. God bless everyone and good luck.

that cool the new version of we are the world .
Would it be cool to have michale jackson in new version .

whack-a-joy, all of you. how can you say they are perfectly able-bodied? do you live under a rock?

`dane county-wisconsin.

Just heard the single for the first time today (2/11/2010). I found it to be one of the lamest songs I have heard in 25 years. They should have just re-released the original version. Kanye West and Lil Wayne? Are you kidding me? They should have invited my mail man to sing along those 2 non talented idiots. LAME

OMG Justin is soooo hot

this song is AMAZING I LOVE IT when i heard it i had to listen to it over and over again it never gets old!!!!!:)

I really like the song, new millenium versom.

But I cant have a copy.

good job

Jah blez Haiti

Brand new device , a jukebox system inside, Young man singing with a microphone footage against green screen.you can view yourself and the lyric in the TVnmonitor,recording such a video at the same time justnin 3-5minutes is OK.(DVD & HD video quality )

This is a whole body interaction systems
Be in the game with our whole body interaction systems!Participants see themselves INSIDE the game as they interact with the experience by using their body motions.

Pls contact : servicenter(at)126.com

You can upload you video to Youtube \ Facebook \ Cell phone \ ipod \ broadcast ont TV etc, broadcast yourself easy, be a star , no talent required!!

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