Barbra Streisand was the last to arrive at Henson Studios on Monday afternoon. She went directly to see producer Quincy Jones, who was in the control room of Studio A. Out in the actual studio there were 80 famous musicians.
“Is there room for another person?” Streisand asked Jones. He laughed. “I’ve known you since you were 16!” he declared. Later, Streisand, realizing that director Paul Haggis was filming live in 3D, laughed and asked, “How will my nose look in 3D?”
The answer was: great. But the real highlight of an amazing five hour recording session was Streisand’s solos. Her lines in the Lionel Richie -Michael Jackson song: “There’s a choice we’re making/We’re saving our own lives” and “It’s true we make a brighter day/So let’s start living.”
Jennifer Hudson, who’d performed a tribute to Streisand two nights earlier at Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party, watched with amazement. “No one sings like her,” Hudson said. “Just listen to her phrasing.” In the studio, Patti Austin ‘ a great singer herself ‘ gave Streisand direction as Quincy Jones’s second-in-command. And she took it.
Later Streisand went and sang in the chorus, joining in with the others. It was a delicious rarity to see her among other recording stars. She is usually apart from the crowd. But not on Monday, when the room was full of old and new, young and old. What everyone learned from this session: Streisand is the greatest pop singer alive. She’s inherited Sinatra’s mantle.
Before Streisand arrived, only two other artists had laid down their work. Carlos Santana recorded a guitar lead and Celine Dion did her own solo vocal. Before the day was over, Hudson, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, India Arie, Usher, Keith Urban, Wyclef Jean, Pink, and a few others would record solo leads.
But there were plenty of other singers and performers in the chorus. They included a legend ”Tony Bennett ‘ plus Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Adam Levine, Jason Mraz, Rob Thomas, members of Earth Wind and Fire, the Jonas Brothers, T Pain, both Brian Wilson and Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, Harry Connick Jr., Toni Braxton, Sean Garrett, Julianne Hough, Bebe Winans, Nancy and Ann Wilson, Brandy, Randy Jackson, Jeff Bridges, Vince Vaughn, Anthony Hamilton, Mya, Mary Mary, Akon, Jordin Sparks. LLCool J, Enrique Iglesias, Isaac Slade of the Fray, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Faith Evans, Haitian singer Jimmy Jean Louis, “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.H. Rahman, and 70s pop star Freda Payne of “Band of Gold” fame.
With the chorus assembled in the very hot and unairconditioned Studio A, Wyclef Jean made a short speech about Haiti today. Then director Haggis talked about his experiences there recently as well. And then the recording began.
In the green room, Lionel Richie’s extended family set up shop: ex wife Brenda, daughter Nicole, her husband Joel Madden, and his brother Benji, all played with Nicole and Joel’s very cute 2-year-old girl, Harlow.
Outside in the courtyard of A&M/Henson, several rockers gathered, smoked and speculated about how Jones and executive producer Randy Phillips were going to handle things like solos. “Life is still like high school,” observed Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. “You wonder who’s going to get picked for which team,” said Rob Thomas of’matchbox’twenty.
Meanwhile, some’artists followed Streisand into the solo booth: Josh Groban and’Natalie Cole were’among the first. They were flawless. Fifteen-year-old Justin Bieber may’need some cleaning up in the final mix. But he’wasn’t the youngest performer: that was Ethan Bortnick, the piano prodigy.
And all the’time this was going on, Quincy Jones’s assistant,’Rebecca,’had the presence of mind to get the entire group of 80 to sign an enlarged copy of the “We Are the World” sheet music. Gladys’Knight was the last to sign ‘ the R&B legend had been working hard for five hours. She posed with the sheet music, giving her usual infectious smile. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” she said.
More to come from “We Are the World 25″…And no, just in case you heard it somewhere (like on those syndicated celeb shows): No’ Michael Jackson’s kids are not involved in this project and were not there today. What a weird untrue rumor.