'We Are the World' for Haiti benefit features Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, dozens more

Some of the biggest stars in the music industry gathered in Hollywood on the day after the Grammys for an even bigger occasion: to record a new version of “We Are the World,” designed to benefit Haiti in the wake of that country’s devastating earthquake, as well as mark the 25th anniversary of the original collaboration. “It’s no accident this happened,” said producer Quincy Jones of the convergence of auspicious date and important cause.

This year’s recording took place in the same studio as 1985, on the lot of the former A&M (now Henson) Studios. Jones was back behind the producer’s podium, alongside the song’s co-writer, Lionel Richie; original engineer Humberto Gatica was behind the dials. R&B singer Mya started a rumor (and immediately took it back) that the song’s original bridge — memorably sung by its other co-writer, Michael Jackson — would remain. But there were nods to 2010, too: Lady Gaga producer RedOne polished the backing track with a more contemporary sound, and Crash director Paul Haggis was on hand to shoot a new video. “The eyes of the world are finally on Haiti,” he said. “We cannot allow it to be forgotten again.”

Haggis’s words were echoed more personally by Haitian native Wyclef Jean, who reminded the assembled group that had he not come to America, he’d be one of the kids in the videos of earthquake survivors surrounding the choir as they recorded. “When I got in the music business, my whole life changed. Today, it represents what the whole mission was for me,” he told the group, by way of an introductory pep talk. “What’s bigger than a contribution is the fact that you lent your voice. The fact that you lent your voice means that we are going into the 21st century Haiti, and I promise you we are not going backwards.”

A small sampling of the 81 performers in attendance: Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, Jennifer Hudson, Justin Bieber, P!nk, Julianne Hough, Carlos Santana, Tony Bennett, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, Rob Thomas, Randy Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and your newly anointed Best New Artist, Zac Brown. Jeff Bridges bonded with Vince Vaughn.  The Jonas Brothers chatted up Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland. Two celebrity daughters, Nicole Richie and Rashida Jones, underscored the passing of time since the original session; Nicole even brought her daughter. Plenty of folks brought flip cams, including Snoop Dogg, whose singing voice Brandy called “hilarious.” For Natalie Cole, the event allowed her to both gawk and fit in. “As celebrities, we’re fans of one another,” she said. “So we’re all lookie-looing in there, getting autographs and numbers. It’s really cool. We kind of get a chance to be normal for a couple hours.” When Usher rolled in at 5:30 p.m, he was, truthfully, just another megastar. There was a sign outside the original recording that read, “Check Your Ego at the Door,” and according to Josh Groban, that humble vibe continued. “It’s inspired chaos,” he said. “It’s great to see so many legendary artists sweating it out and doing it until its over. To be smack dab in the middle of a sandwich between Barbra Streisand and Weezy was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever have again.”

By 6 p.m., the choir had run through the chorus at least a dozen times, and took a ten-minute break that turned into 45. On a large screen set up in the courtyard, the masses of personal assistants and publicists and managers lingering during the session (and the civilians who’d gathered on the street outside the complex) were treated to a live feed of Streisand recording the same line over and over and over and over. For the record, it was “There’s a choice we’re making / We’re saving our own lives / It’s true we’ll make a better day / Just you and me.” “I didn’t come all this way to sing one line,” Babs said at one point; they then allowed her to vamp some improvisations over the chorus. Other acts pulled out to sing solo lines were Bieber (riffing on the chorus melody in his earnest teensy way), Groban (“We can’t go on / pretending day by day…” as well as providing what he called “the token classical note of the vamp”), and Dion, who was coached by Lionel Richie to let her inner gospel diva out. “You’re honored that they pick you for the hardest part of the song, but at the same time it gives you a lot of pressure, so thanks a lot,” she joked. “The rhythm was changed a little bit and I so wanted to make it perfect. They played the track, and on my right shoulder, Lionel Richie. I was like, ‘I think I’m in good hands.’”

It was Dion who sparked the evening’s most thrilling moment, a spontaneous a capella group singalong of “Lean On Me.” It was not immediately clear what the plan was for the night’s biggest head-scratcher, a pair of stand-ins wearing full green-screen body stockings. By 8 p.m., folks were starting to trickle away — the Jonas Brothers had a very important softball game — but a vast chorus still remained, clapping and laughing and singing those familiar words again and again, wanting it to be just right, the video screens surrounding them still running non-stop disaster footage, as though anyone needed reminding. “We have to help each other,” Dion explained of the night’s real purpose. “It’s an honor to have been asked, and a responsibility to act and make a difference. When something terrible happens, it’s not time to cry. It’s time to join each other and act. We are making the best and feeling every word of it to make a difference. But we will make a difference, so yes, we are enjoying ourselves.”

Comments (212 total) Add your comment
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  • What

    Justin Diaper???? Randy Jackson?? Will it be called We Ate the World?

    • Anthony

      The cast of Jersey Shore also make an appearance, to bring the guido’s of the world into the mix

      • jb

        One shot, bro. One shot.

        Who the *$(#&Y( are these singers? It’s like Chris Rock said, “Here today…gone today.” This was set up by agents, managers, and PR reps.

    • dm

      It is actually painful to read the comments of people because everyone is so cynical. About everything!! People died, a horrible thing happened and a new record was created to raise money, so let’s look at what’s right and not what’s wrong. And if you all think you can do better, then make your own song for Haiti and raise money. Just please, everyone, check the cynicism at the door.

      • nishka

        thank you dm. well said.

      • Damien

        well said.

      • Simone

        again well said, thank you, dm Criticism of kind actions is a kind of self mutilation. Transparently pathetic.

    • Geena

      Where’s Whitney Houston, John Legend, Christina Aquilera, Beyonce, Boyz to Men, Johnny Gil, Faith Hill, Axyl Rose, Tracy Chapman, Mariah Carey, Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan (should have done Celine Dion’s part)??? And many more voices that are truly American treasures???

    • kelly

      yes, it is….^^)

  • Sally in Chicago

    Okay, this is a little bit bi**chy…but why do you need 81 artists in a studio where originally only about 25-30 artists recorded? What’s the point in having everybody in the frame?
    Why does this effort feel like a f a i l u r e?
    Does anybody think the public will buy this recording, when the Haitian recording is already on the charts and selling?
    Can we say “overkill?”

    • Blanche

      Because they all want to be perceived as good deed doers. It’s good for business.

      • mh

        notice west was there? not too many good deeds done by him!

      • samwolfson

        Kanye was there but i didnt see Taylor swift??

    • Tiara

      Back to you at least they’re doing something to help the world. are you out there trying to sing like them?

      • Byron

        They need to take out their checkbooks if they want to help and not be so stingy.

      • Emma

        Byron, how do you know they’re not? Just because they are singing a song doesn’t mean it’s the only thing they’ve done. I’d wager a number of them have donated money.

      • Simone

        thank you. I’m beginning to think that everyone trashing this effort is just dead drunk and stupid trash talking. Sadly.

    • pen

      yea you are right, that was pretty bi*chy

  • UGH

    Good cause, lousy lineup.

    • World Traveler

      Self glorifying is more like it, rather than good cause. Super bazaar combo of no good singers. I may have been interested in a handful of really really good voices to go all out and blow this song out. ie. Hudson, Dion, Houston, Aguilera, Lambert, Groban…

      • abbey

        lambert? good singer? he just shouts

      • World Traveler

        @abbey — Give a listen before judging. If you still think he shouts after watching this, then you’re hopeless.

      • LoveVioletFlame

        I, too would have loved to see the ‘better’voices highlighted, but I’m very moved by the re-recording. Love your choice, World Traveler! But for pure sonic pleasure, this recording of Adam Lambert singing Come to Me, Bend to me from Brigadoon is my favorite:

  • Glory

    Waaaaay too many artists! Just seems like a lot of window dressing…how many actually will get a line?

    • Sally in Chicago

      My thoughts too. I can see everybody’s agent on the phone calling Quincy, and him not being able to turn them down.

  • shocka

    green body stockings? can someone say “digitally inserting michael jackson into the video?”

    • SD Tim

      Ohhh, that would be so tacky! I hope not

    • RBlues

      Prince Michael and Paris would be my guess.

    • Linda

      some people, like Rob Thomas, had to cut out early after they sang their lines. Maybe they’ll drop them in.

      • Aaron

        Read somewhere else that Carlos Santana left early and Brian Wilson couldn’t stand long enough for the shoot.

  • TorontoTom

    I’m underwhelmed by the lineup (other than Streisand). Justin Beiber?!? Are you kidding me???

    • austinrob

      Totally agree. Whoever did the choosing did not use the 1985 lineup as a basis. This lineup is a handful of big names & a bunch of randoms no one is going to recognize.

  • Valerie

    Hmmm…..doesn’t really compare to the original lineup. Most of these so-called “stars” don’t measure up to the likes of Springsteen, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, etc.

    But it’s for a good cause, so I’ll stop harping.

    • James

      I totally agree Valerie

    • rocknmovies

      I totally agree. That new lot doesn’t compare to the cast of ’85, most of them are horrible and will be forgotten in 25 years.

    • Sean

      The original had the same mix of huge stars and why-are-they-there/where-are-they-now artists. If you need reminding Dan Ackroyd, Pointer Sisters, Kim Carnes, Kenny Loggins, Pointer Sisters, Jermaine Jackson, Latoya Jackson, Sheila E., Huey Lewis, Jeffrey Osbourne, Dionne Warwick and James Ingram were all part of the original lineup.

      • codewhiz

        The Log (Kenny Loggins) is still going strong, thank you very much! As for Huey Lewis, don’t forget he did the theme song for the Pineapple Express movie.

  • Catca

    I was an American living in England at the time the original version came out and in all honesty, it was a cringe worthy moment for me. It was a good cause and great artists, and I guess you could say catchy tune. But frankly, an all American lineup singing “We Are the World”. No we’re not. We’re part of the world. We’re making great contributions to the world. But we are NOT the world. Seriously, I wanted to hide under a rock.

    • Jennifer

      But Dan Aykroyd was in the back, representin’ for Canada!

      • Dee

        Except Canada had the far superior (IMO) Tears Are Not Enough

    • jb

      You’re right, Catca. It was a popular song at the time, but not a great song. It was recorded very late after Band Aid’s song and came off as self-indulgent. The sentiment was never questioned, but the song itself could have been much, much better. Thank you for actually listening to the words and pointing out the irony!

    • Marlene

      I don’t think the lyrics were referring to Americans. I think it just meant that we are all part of the same world and the same family, so we have to help each other.

      • jlg

        Thank you! I completely agree! The song never once singles out Americans. It truly is a beautiful song!

  • steve

    where is KENNY RODGERS…………………..

    • Jamie

      Julianne is a country artist, who won Best New Artist at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Her album is quite good.

    • Jean Genie

      Steve, Kenny Rogers has been OVER as a pop artist for the last couple decades. I myself am amazed Kanye West was allowed there – guess that’s how much America is getting over Taylor Swift LOL.

      • ugly nikki

        Why did he kill someone? Is he some kind of criminal?

      • Mimi

        Allowed??

      • jack

        A criminal? No. A drunken A-hole? Yes.

      • Byron

        Did they hook up the auto tuner for him? Or was he just there to appear to sing so he can have some much needed positive coverage of himself? That guy doesn’t care of others misery, I doubt he’s there on his own free will, probably got paid to show up.

  • AP

    Julianne Hough…..WTF?!?!?!

    • Kiki

      Agreed. I like Julianne, but there are so many other singers who are better and with so much bigger names/fanbases. I have to wonder why they were not asked to participate.

  • Sue

    I hope they changed it up a bit instead of a note by note recreation. It’s no different than any artist remaking a song. If you aren’t putting your artistic stamp on it, why do it?

  • ae

    I guess they didn’t decide to pick people who can sing, it’s just everyone who’s been popular in the last year or so.

  • marven gardens

    Someone get Bob Geldof on the phone!

  • SD Tim

    “I didn’t come all this way to sing one line,” Babs said at one point. — So much for the original spirit of “checking your ego at the door,” Babs!

    • Al

      What does she mean “all this way”? She lives in Malibu.

      • Joss

        Hopefully she was kidding. And just FYI, the Nokia is nowhere near Malibu.

      • jack

        She has a massive spread in Maui. I would assume several other residences.

      • Joe

        She had to get off the couch, to make it to the door, then the limo, then the studio. It’s far for her.

    • TrP

      ITA. I hope it wasn’t said in the context it sounds like.

    • Timmytom

      She said it in reference to her multiple takes. What she said was “I didn’t come all this way to sing the line once.” She did over two dozen takes to make certain her phrasing, tone, and pitch were correct. She is a perfectionist. She did not mean that she wanted more than one line.

  • RM

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

    • LOL

      What a tool. LOL

      • ckdexter

        What are you going to do, RM, to deal with all your “I’m a giant tool” guilt?

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