A number of today's biggest stars gathered on Monday night to record "We Are the World — 25 for Haiti," the classic 1985 charity single re-imagined as a benefit for earthquake relief. Though song co-writer Michael Jackson passed away last summer, his presence was most definitely felt in the studio, where fellow co-writer Lionel Richie and producer Quincy Jones had assembled more than 80 singers, rappers and actors for the new version.
To make sure that listeners feel his presence too, Janet Jackson will be representing her brother in the new recording. "She's doing Michael's part in the middle the same part Michael did," Jones told the press. "She's representing Michael."
Many of those involved on Monday said MJ's part in the original will always remain their favorite. "My favorite part of the song — it would be the bridge [when Michael comes in]," said Mya, who hinted that Jackson's voice might make it onto this version too. "I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to share. ... We do hope [to have Michael's voice on the track]."
"I was not born yet, but the song has had a huge impact on me," Jordin Sparks said. "And I've always loved Michael's love for the world and for the Earth and for other people and to help and give back."
Celine Dion, who paid tribute to Jackson at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, noted that by re-recording the song, they are not only helping the people of Haiti but also remembering the passion Jackson had for helping those in need. "In a way it was because of him I learned English. I had my posters in my bedroom when I was a young, young kid," she recalled. "The atmosphere [in the studio] is amazing. People are very touched to be there. We're talking about somebody who was living through music and his passion was to try to help and change the world through his lyrics and what he was doing."
Akon, who worked on music with Jackson before his death, fondly remembered stories Jackson told him about working on the original "We Are the World." "The wild part about it, Michael used to tell me stories about making the 'WATW' song and then working with Lionel," he said. "I never thought I'd be in a position to be remaking it and actually be able to tell the story myself one day."
Richie and Jones were quick to point out that if Jackson were still alive, he'd want to be just as involved with the song as he was 25 years ago, though maybe in a different role. "I know it's hard to believe, but if Michael were, alive he'd stand behind the scenes," Richie said.