While Barack Obama barnstorms the country trying to drum up votes in advance of Super Tuesday, a wildly diverse cross section of musical supporters, including the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am, OK Go and former members of the Grateful Dead, are lending a hand.
One of the biggest Obama-boosting efforts comes courtesy of Will.I.Am, who recently teamed with director Jesse Dylan (son of Bob Dylan) to release a music video called “Yes We Can.” The Bob Marley-like anthem turns the Illinois senator’s January 8 New Hampshire primary-night address into lyrics performed by Will, as well as almost 40 other actors, celebrities and athletes, including John Legend, Kate Walsh, Aisha Tyler, Amber Valletta, Taryn Manning, Nicole Scherzinger, Common, Scarlett Johansson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Herbie Hancock and Nick Cannon.
The song was recorded less than a week ago in Los Angeles, and the “We Are the World”-style video features the stars reciting or singing along to the Obama speech on top of a stark black background, with intercut clips of the candidate delivering the address as Legend croons the refrain: “Yes we can!” Since it was posted on Friday, it has already garnered more than a million views on YouTube and 10 million on the host site, YesWeCanSong.com, according to a spokesperson for the project.
Explaining his inspiration for the song, Will wrote in an accompanying blog post on the site that he was in a recording studio watching one of the presidential debates and feeling torn between candidates when the idea struck him. “I was never really big on politics … and actually, I’m still not big on politics,” he wrote. But “the outcome of the last two elections has saddened me … on how unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful, corrupt and just simply, how wrong the world and politics are. … So this year I wanted to get involved and do all I could, early.”
But lacking a clear choice, as he suspected many people were, Will said he was ready to wait for a candidate to emerge as the (presumably Democratic) nominee without his help. “And then came New Hampshire … and I was captivated … inspired,” he wrote. “I reflected on my life and the blessings I have and the people who fought for me to have these rights and blessings. And I’m not talking about a ‘black thing,’ I’m talking about a ‘human thing.’ Me as a ‘person,’ an American.”
He said Obama’s speech made him think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and “all the others that have fought for what we have today … what America is ‘supposed’ to be … freedom, equality and truth.” One week later, the New Hampshire speech, which “touched [his] inner core like nothing in a very long time,” began taking shape as the song. He called some friends to help out, and a week after that, the song and video were recorded. “I produced this song to share my newfound inspiration and how I’ve been moved,” he wrote. “I hope this song will make you feel love and think and be inspired just like the speech inspired me.”
Among the other notables in the clip: Adam Rodriguez, Alfonso Ribeiro, Austin Nichols, Ed Kowalczyk, Eric Balfour, Esthero, Harold Perrineau, Johnathon Schaech, Kelly Hu, Maya Rubin, Tatyana Ali and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Will isn’t the only one feeling Obama these days. On Monday night (February 4) in New York, former Shudder to Think bandmates Craig Wedren and Nathan Larson are reuniting for the “Barack Rock” show at the Bowery Ballroom. The gig, presented by GetUpAndVote.com, will also feature OK Go, Nina Persson (the Cardigans), Joan as Police Woman and the comedy troupe Stella (Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain), plus some unannounced surprise guests. It comes on the heels of last month’s Fall Out Boy-curated Obama fundraiser in Chicago, during which bassist Pete Wentz had kind words for his hometown presidential candidate.
And it’s not just indie rockers who are singing the praises of Obama. Monday night will also bring a show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco by former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh, who will perform their first show together since 2004 in honor of the Illinois senator. The gig is being promoted as a one-night-only reunion.
Also on Monday, Pearl Jam’s members — Eddie Vedder not included — posted online a reworked version of “Rock Around the Clock” called, you guessed it, “Rock Around Barack.” Guitarist Stone Gossard, who handled singing duties for the recording, said in a statement that the ’50s classic “had a transforming effect on American music. At that time, rock and rhythm and blues music was traditionally only played on black radio. … So here’s to … the breaking down of cultural barriers.”
Obama also picked up an endorsement from the hip-hop community on Monday, when veteran rapper Q-Tip released a statement endorsing the senator. The rapper listed several reasons — including the Iraq war, blows to America’s image overseas, toxic products on store shelves and an economic meltdown — which contributed to his feeling that the country needs to “break out of old habits and politics as usual.”
[This story was originally published at 3:08 p.m. on 02.04.08]