More than 75 stars — from the legendary Barbra Streisand to rapper Lil Wayne and actor Vince Vaughn — gathered at Hollywood’s Henson Recording Studios on the day before yesterday (Feb. 1) to record the 25th anniversary version of “We Are The World.” Like its predecessor, “We Are The World – 25 For Haiti” features a diverse lineup: this time ranging from Streisand and Celine Dion to actor Jeff Bridges. But it also boasts a major hip-hop contingent (Kanye West, Lil Wayne, LL Cool J, Akon, Kid Cudi, Drake), young newcomers (Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber) and major-league high technology. “This is like running through hell with gasoline underwear,” said Quincy Jones with a laugh late last night during a five-minute recording break. The video for “We Are the World – 25 For Haiti” will world premiere in 3D during NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 12. Academy Award-winning writer/director Paul Haggis (“Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby”) directed the video, an online version will feature green screen, allowing viewers to place themselves in the We Are the World lineup as well. Proceeds from the contemporary recording and the accompanying video will go directly to Haitian relief efforts through the We Are The World Foundation, a newly created not-for-profit organization comprised of board members Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie, Wyclef Jean, Paul Haggis, AEG Live president/CEO Randy Phillips and Ambassador Louis Moreno of the Inter-American Development Bank. Helping to underwrite the project was Visa.
Joining Jones in the media tent (which housed two video screens showing both looped and real-time footage of the recording) was an equally tired but ebullient Lionel Richie, who produced and co-wrote the original song with Michael Jackson. He, Jones and Jean are executive producers of the new song, with newly minted Grammy Award winner/producer RedOne and producer/musical director Ricky Minor (“American Idol”) also onboard. Richie and Jones noted that other artists beyond those on hand last night will be added to the recording. Among those will be Janet Jackson, who will sing brother Michael’s middle part in the original. Asked the reason for going with all new artists for the re-recording, Richie said, “It’s the toughest thing; you want to jump in, but then you must realize you have to pass the torch.” Richie, who sang on the original version as well, passed his torch to newcomer Beiber, who sings Richie’s part in the new song. Asked what Michael Jackson would be doing if he were alive to participate in the re-recording, Richie said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but if Michael were alive, he would be behind the scenes with us doing exactly what we’re doing: supporting everyone. I must say, the enthusiasm I’ve witnessed in there…I’ve never seen anything like it. What made it so interesting this time around is we took longer to record because we now have cell phones and Twitter. Instead of having down time where everyone is sitting around doing nothing, everybody was taking pictures of each other.” The gathered artists also broke into an impromptu version of the Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me,” sparked by Melanie Fiona’s hurting feet. “We were standing for quite a while and my feet started to hurt a bit. So I told Musiq Soulchild that I was going to lean on him. He said this isn’t ‘Lean on Me.’ Then someone else said lean on me and Celine started singing. The rest is what you saw on camera, history.”
Also making their way to the media room to share their experiences were: Jordin Sparks: “I was standing next to Rob Thomas and Lil Wayne in front of me. Then Brandy, Tyrese and Natalie Cole. Everybody is having a good time, so excited to be a part of something bigger than us. I’ve always loved Michael’s love for the world. I love the song; they’ve changed it up a little bit. It has a little more — I hate this word — but swag, I guess. But it’s going to be awesome.” Natalie Cole: “It’s a bubbly, energetic mood in there. I was standing by Kanye West and Jennifer Hudson; we were all getting numbers and autographs. But we were also in a thoughtful mood in there because of the images of Haiti on the video screens behind us in the studio. It was also very emotional because a Haitian film crew — who had just got out in time — spoke to us as well.” Celine Dion: “People are very touched to be here. Wehave to enjoy ourselves; we’re talking about music and about someone who was living through music. Michael’s fashion was to help change the world through his lyrics. Through our music, voices and talent, all of us together…you can’t just say this is terrible. Tonight we have this opportunity to make a difference.” Josh Groban: “I got Kenny Rogers’ original harmony with Paul Simon and I was happy for that. But I don’t know yet who the harmony will be with; it’s to be determined. Then they had me do a riff at the end with some bravado…that was the token classical note of the song (laughs). It’s inspired chaos. We’re all there for the same reason and it’s great to see so many legendary artists sweating it out; doing it until it’s over. Everybody left their ego at the door. To be smack dab in the middle of a sandwich between Weezy and Barbra Streisand was personally a creative experience I don’t think I’ll have the pleasure of having again. It just goes to show the mix and match of people who are here to help. I can only hope this version has the impact of the original.” Lil Wayne: “I’ve never been involved in anything like this. But coming out I feel blessed and feel like I’ve done something today. And that’s always a good day. When I got here, I was like what am I doing, will I be rapping or what? Then they told me I was doing Bob Dylan’s part and I was like, you guys are real good comedians. But I approached it the best way I knew how. Did I do a better job than Bob Dylan? Hell, no. But after I did his part, it hit me that this was something way more important than I could ever imagine. Before I go, I just want to say I think it’s amazing what’s been done for Haiti but I also think it’s amazing what hasn’t been done for New Orleans. Thank you.”