Stars gather to cover 'We Are the World' for Haiti

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The sun had just set here Monday behind the strip club across La Brea Avenue when a constellation of pop stars emptied into the sprawling courtyard of Henson Recording Studios.

They were enjoying an extended break after spending hours crammed into Studio A, singing a 25th-anniversary remake of "We Are the World" to benefit earthquake relief in Haiti. Among the 80-plus artists getting some fresh air: Tony Bennett, Miley Cyrus, Gladys Knight, Brian Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, CĂ©line Dion, the Jonas Brothers and Kanye West, who wore a shimmering jacket as if trying to channel "We Are the World" co-creator Michael Jackson.

Barbra Streisand was inside, still at work: "There's a choice . . . There's a choiiice . . . " She was recording (and rerecording) a 21-word solo turn -- her fussiness being broadcast live to a giant screen in the courtyard for all to see.

As she fidgeted on-screen ("It's true we make a better day . . . I don't know what to do here"), the R&B singer T-Pain couldn't help but smile. "I don't think she knows everyone can see her," he said.

After watching Streisand spend 30 minutes massaging her 10-second solo snippet, Lil Wayne stared at the screen with an incredulous look on his tattoo-covered face. The surrealism of the scene was not lost on the New Orleans rap superstar. "I'm still like, 'What the hell am I doing here?' " he said. "Just to be around all these people, just to know that they'd consider me, that [expletive] is blowing my mind."

It was closing in on 7 p.m. and Wayne still didn't know what line he'd be singing -- just another unknown in what was an extremely chaotic day. Hoping to corral pop's A-list after Sunday's Grammy Awards, original "We Are the World" producer Quincy Jones and songwriter Lionel Richie had announced plans to rerecord the song less than two weeks earlier. Things were moving fast.

The crowd in the courtyard eventually dispersed -- singers back to the studio, journalists to a pressroom where they could watch a video feed of the session's remaining hours.

As the singers arrived earlier, a game of name-that-pop-star broke out. Bonus points were awarded for spotting unknown newbies (Melanie Fiona, Kid Cudi) and veterans who had been away from the spotlight (Heart; Earth, Wind & Fire). And yes, that was actor Vince Vaughn toward the back, presumably reprising Dan Aykroyd's role from 1985.

Aside from Richie and Jones, who worked behind the scenes this time around, no artists from the original "We Are the World" recording session were included in Monday's event -- a conscious decision made by Richie to showcase a new generation of talent. This updated version of the beloved charity ballad, first composed to benefit famine relief in Africa, will be officially called "We Are the World -- 25 for Haiti" and will premiere during the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver on Feb. 12. All of the proceeds from sales will go to earthquake relief efforts.

On-screen, the massive chorus delivered final takes in short bursts, with lots of chatter in between. But by 8 p.m., the group seemed to have jelled completely, and broke into an impromptu version of "Lean on Me."

Soon, artists began trickling into the pressroom. "Nobody knew what [line] they were going to perform," said Dion, who found out she'd be responsible for Cyndi Lauper's iconic well-well-well-wellll ascension shortly after she arrived Monday afternoon. "It wasn't really the easiest part of the song."

Lil Wayne materialized after recording his solo contribution. "They was like, 'You're doing Bob Dylan's part,' " he said. "It kind of hit me that . . . this is something way more important than I could have ever imagined." But he left the pressroom with a parting shot: "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."

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