Producer Quincy Jones was planning to properly pay homage and do more good with "We Are the World" for its 25th anniversary. He wanted both to celebrate the late Michael Jackson, who co-wrote the charitable hit with Lionel Richie, and to remind the world what a powerful force it can be when musicians come together.
Then disaster struck Haiti. "We Are the World," which was originally recorded for charitable causes in Africa, became a new anthem for Haitian relief.
Producer, songwriter and arranger Mervyn Warren received the call to put together vocal arrangements for a remake with a superstar lineup. Warren had previously worked with Jones, whom he calls his ultimate mentor, and was more than up for the task.
More than 80 artists, including Pink, Celine Dion, Usher and Barbra Streisand, recorded the remade song in just 14 hours in a Los Angeles recording studio. Warren, a founding member of a cappella sextet Take 6, worked tirelessly with other producers, including Patti Austin, Wyclef Jean, RedOne and Ricky Minor, to put together the perfect sound. Warren says the key for the "Artists for Haiti" version of "We Are the World" was to "come up with some new things, which is how the inclusion of rap and electronic beats emerged to be truly reflective of 2010." Additionally, Warren says, the voices were multitracked. "In some instances, there are 300 to 400 voices singing melody and harmony at the same time."
Oscar®-winning director Paul Haggis was in the recording studio to shoot the music video along with Cine Institute, a Haiti-based educational program exposing students to the wonders of filmmaking. Eleven Cine Institute students traveled to Los Angeles to aid in the shooting the seven-minute version of the video, while eight students worked on collecting footage in Haiti.
More on Mervyn's next project
Warren recalls that Haitian-born artist Wyclef gave remarks before the recording. "People started crying because it was so touching," he says.
Warren has been busy on other projects. He's working on Jones' still unnamed tribute album—a collection of Jones-penned hits covered by current artists. Additionally, he has a number of movie projects in the works, including a film in development with Queen Latifah (Warren arranged the music and produced her Super Bowl performance) and a music-based film with Patti Austin.
Last year, he was also lucky to work with one of his biggest influences, Michael Jackson, albeit posthumously, as co-producer on his last single, "This Is It."
Warren's advice to newcomers? "Observe and learn. You are never too old to learn, there is always an opportunity to learn something new—even when you are an expert."