It was some morning. 'NSync had just left, Nellie Furtado was making her way into the booth, and rumor had it that Janet was on her way. (That's Miss Jackson, if you're nasty.) Also involved were P. Diddy, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, and Jennifer Lopez. Dupri was rejoicing in the fact that they could raise funds and awareness to globally fight the deadly disease when the single is released on December 1, World AIDS Day. He spoke about the healing power of music, saying that every war has had its battle cry, its call to arms. What "We Are the World" was to hunger and "That's What Friends Are For" was in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, he hoped "What's Going On" would be in the continued fight against AIDS. As I sat and talked with Dupri, I couldn't have known that, just two weeks later, I would be involved in a similar project to raise money for a horrific disaster we knew nothing about, a war we didn't know existed. We know now.
In the days following the World Trade Center disaster, the entire entertainment community has come together to raise money for those affected--and to raise spirits. Not since the World War II bond drives and USO tours have so many famous faces been involved in patriotic activities. As Americans unite against terrorism, music is once again a tool for taking action. On September 22, the Avatar Studios in midtown Manhattan contained some of the brightest lights on the entertainment scene, joining forces to benefit the victims and families of the catastrophe. "We Are Family" is the anthem, written by Nile Rodgers and originally sung by Sister Sledge. Rodgers, the producer of the cut, explained that "The idea behind today's session, and for all time, is that the world has become a much smaller place. I hope this recording will foster the belief that we are a family and we stand together, reliant on each other. Our hope is to bring the world together."
"We are family / Brothers and my sisters with me / We are family / Get up everybody and sing!" It's perhaps an unlikely lyric. But, under these new and tragic circumstances, the words take on a new color, evoking courage and strength. The faces I saw singing and swinging to this oldie made a unique patchwork quilt of celebrities. There they were: Diana Ross, Joel Grey, Dionne Warwick, Joey McIntyre, Patti Labelle, Bernadette Peters, Rosie Perez, Catherine Hickland, David Canary, Amanda Lewis, Taye Diggs, Polly Bergen, Eartha Kitt, The B-52's, KC and the Sunshine Band--even Felipe, the Indian from The Village People! Also included in the mix was a peppering of real heroes: our beloved New York City firefighters and policemen. And swooping around the scene with a video camera was Spike Lee, who's directing the video for MTV and VH-1.
The night before that recording session, I was at Shea Stadium with Liza Minnelli and Marc Anthony, both of whom sang for the 41,000 Mets fans in attendance (not to mention a huge TV audience). Anthony sang our national anthem a cappella and told me that, after seeing the ballplayers with tears streaming down their faces, he had to finish the song with his eyes closed. He said that he had sung "The Star Spangled Banner" many times at various events, but never before had the words meant more.
During the seventh inning stretch, Liza sang her heart out, vamped with a spontaneous chorus line of cops, and worked the throng into a much-needed, joyous frenzy. "New York, New York" has never been so important to hear. "I can't stop thinking about all the innocent people that this has affected," Liza told me. "Injustice in any form has always made me angry, but this time the terror is right on my home turf. I'm a singer, so I felt like I had to sing. So many times, music has given me the energy and the strength to get up and move when I thought I couldn't. I love New York, and I love America!"
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