Babyface, Bill Clinton Team Up To Fight AIDS

NEW YORK — Former President Bill Clinton and pop hitmaker Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds will team up to fight AIDS in Africa and other areas with a wide-ranging campaign that will include two concerts and a benefit album, they announced Tuesday (July 31).

The International AIDS Trust (IAT) campaign will help people get treatment and medicine in the areas hardest hit by the pandemic, spread awareness to the public and policy makers and mobilize leaders to continue to fight the disease.

Edmonds equated the AIDS problem to helping a neighbor remedy an unsightly lawn while lawns a few blocks away were just as unkempt.

"That's human nature," Edmonds explained. "We normally only care about what's in our backyard — what's next to us and what affects us. That's why we're here today. What's happening in someone else's backyard ultimately affects us all. We have to rise above our human nature and start caring about other people's backyards."

Edmonds will organize benefit concerts in New York and South Africa, and oversee production of a compilation album whose proceeds will benefit IAT programs. Though no dates have been set for either the concerts or the album, Edmonds said he would ask his music-industry friends for assistance and already claimed the support of Antonio "L.A." Reid, president and CEO of Arista Records. Reid's label is likely to distribute the LP.

"Musicians reach people in a way no one else can; and no one does that better than Kenny 'Babyface' Edmonds," said IAT president Sandra Thurman of the organization's involvement with the 10-time Grammy Award winner. Edmonds will also serve with President Clinton on the IAT advisory board.

The initiative's scope is global but will target Africa, where between 20 and 33 percent of adults in sub-Saharan countries are already HIV-infected. In fact, an estimated half of all 15-year-olds will die of AIDS in South Africa, a ratio that jumps to two out of three in Botswana. Other regions plagued by the problem include India, the Caribbean, Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union.

Edmonds will embark on a fact-finding mission in late November or early December during which he will visit organizations supported by IAT programs. These include Rwanda's Family Care and Support Project, which helps HIV-positive mothers deliver HIV-negative babies.

Clinton, who chairs the IAT advisory board, stressed that AIDS is just as preventable as it is incurable. He cited Brazil, which halved its AIDS fatality rate in three years by increasing availability of medicines and spreading awareness, and Uganda, which halved its fatality in five years through education alone.

"Though AIDS in America has gone down — it has a roughly half-percent infection rate — 36 to 40 million people worldwide are living with AIDS," Clinton said. "I promise that if after five years 100 million AIDS cases are reported worldwide, the rate in America will not still be going down. It is in our backyard."

When asked if he'll contribute some sax to the benefit album, the 42nd president laughed and doubted it, saying he couldn't meet Babyface's standards. Clinton claimed to have jammed with the producer the last time he was over at Edmonds' house, however.