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Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie pass ‘We Are the World’ baton

A changed planet, new orbit and bigger galaxy of stars. For Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie, the second revolution of We Are the World, launched Friday, easily matches the 1985 original in talent, altruism and magic.
“Divinity was in the room,” says Jones, producer for both charity recordings. “It was a big challenge. It takes a serious army and serious emotional architecture. I’ve never seen such a diverse group of people, and they came for the right reasons.”

We Are the World: 25 for Haiti, downloadable at and iTunes, brought 88 voices together, spotlighting such soloists as Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand. Most gathered on Feb. 1 in the studio where the first was taped. A few were plugged in later, including Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson.

At her mother’s request, Jackson’s part was spliced with original vocals and footage of her brother Michael. “It made me feel more secure about this,” says Richie, who co-wrote the original with the pop legend. “We definitely felt a void. He’s the other parent.”

Ideas for an anniversary remake languished for months until the Haiti earthquake Jan. 12 mobilized Jones and Richie, who updated the second verse to underscore the disaster.

Though Richie felt some jitters about tackling a sequel, especially one seeking donations in a stalled economy, he flatly disagreed with those who declared the anthem too sacred to reinterpret.

“What’s a classic? To the next generation, it’s just an old song,” says Richie, who insisted on a fresh slate of talent with no 1985 returnees. “We have a familiar song that kids learn in school. Why not bring in Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and let them address the issues? We can pass the baton and empower the next generation to take up arms and have a legacy with this.”

The revamp features flashier music by producer RedOne and a hip-hop “Greek chorus” including LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg,, Kanye West and Busta Rhymes.

In 1985, hip rockers were enlisted, Richie says. “Now the radicals and bad boys and messengers are rappers. We had to add that to give it freshness.”

That segment capped the we-are-the-whirlwind session with all-star lineups evolving over 14 hours.

“Some people left to go to the Lakers game,” Jones cracks. “Voices give out, and you can’t keep them there all night. It was intense. They were so generous. It wasn’t about egos or careers.”

The first We Are the World album, single and merchandise raised $63 million for African famine relief. New technology may help the 2010 version reach that mark, despite diminishing record sales in general.

“Before we left the studio, the planet knew about this,” Richie says, citing the rampant Twitter, flip-camera and cellphone activity during the recording session. “There was instant excitement and intrigue out there.”

Through its partnership with YouTube, the newly established We Are the World Foundation will allow public monitoring of money and grants dispersed with real-time online graphs.

“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a hit record to make someone decide to save a life,” Richie says. “I want this song to be the battle cry again. Every once in a while, you have to wake the world up. We slept right through Katrina. If we are not a socially aware culture, we’re going to fail.”

Haiti is only a start. The foundation will address other global needs as they arise. A song, Jones says, will never lose its power to motivate change: “Music will be the last thing to leave this planet.”

Source: Edna Gundersen for USA TODAY


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