Published on January 3rd, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Lindsay Holler and co. Rework and Celebrate ‘We Are the World’
Charleston-based songwriter/musician Lindsay Holler, a seasoned vocalist and bandleader, was just a kid when she first saw the video for “We Are the World,” the 1985 anthem written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and recorded by Quincy Jones with a wild ensemble of pop, soul, rock, and country vocalists under the group name USA for Africa.
This weekend, for the second year in a row, she’s excited to present a Charleston-made reworking of the classic charity single as part of a “We Are The World” fundraising showcase at the Pour House.
“I might’ve been 9 or so when I first saw the video for ‘We Are the World,’ so I was pretty impressed,” Holler remembers. “Michael Jackson was my jam back then. I thought it was pretty rad to see that group of people together.”
In January 1985, Richie and Jackson joined Jones in a California studio to begin tracking “We Are the World.” Once the instrumental parts and basic melodies were ready, they assigned various lines and harmonies throughout the verses and choruses to participants like Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and other soloists> even more celebrity musicians and vocalists chimed in on the final choruses.
“The entire group is pretty eclectic, and they all look like they’re digging it,” Holler says. “I believe most of them came straight from the American Music Awards and went right into the studio that same night, after the ceremony.”
Some music critics and fans have found the collaboration to be cheesy, an awkward assemblage of artists who looked and sounded uneasy together in a studio. Others admired the effort, even if they disliked the syrupy tune, No matter, “We Are the World” instantly became a chart success when it was released in March 1985, and sales of the single raised millions to aid humanitarian efforts in Africa.
“We Are the World” was essentially the U.S. response to the U.K.’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” — a similar single released in November 1984 by Band Aid, the all-star pop supergroup led by Bob Geldof. The goal behind the “feed the world” anthem was also aimed at raising funds for famine victims in Africa.
“I wasn’t really familiar with ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ back then, but now, I think it’s a much catchier song,” Holler says. “I think that ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ could stand up much better, today. It really does sound like a Christmas song. Or maybe that’s because I’m going through Christmas song withdrawal right now.”
Listening to “We Are the World,” one has to admire Jones’ delicate and balanced arranging skills. There are more than a few verse-to-verse transitions and highlights between the featured singers.
“I think Cyndi Lauper has the best transition,” Holler says. “Her delivery is so indicative of herself. The big-harmony chorus parts are the best.”
Holler and several of her music scene colleagues arranged last year’s “We Are the World” event at the Tin Roof with dozens of local singers and musicians on hand.
“I think this idea was first brought up by Jamie Resch [of Kentucky Shoes] several years ago,” Holler says. “Unfortunately, nothing really came of it at that point. A year and a half ago, I was hanging out with my friends Emily Painter and Darby Long, going through YouTube videos, and we might’ve run across the video for ‘We Are The World.’ ‘How can you not go there?’ we thought. At the time, I’d been producing some shows at the Tin Roof and thought, ‘Why not?'”
The inaugural “We Are the World” show at the Roof went off really well, anchored by a house band comprised of Lee Barbour on guitar, Jonathan Gray on bass, Stuart White on drums, and Sam Sfirri on keys. Tin Roof bartender and veteran punk singer Johnny Puke stood out as “Michael Jackson.” Other notables included Dan Hanf (Glowgoyle, Instroducing Fish Taco) as Bruce Springsteen, Elliott Smith as Ray Charles, and Rachel Kate Gillon as Cindi Lauper. The event sold out.
This year, needing a bit more space, they switched venues to the more spacious Pour House. The house band will feature Barbour, Gray, and White with Gerald Gregory on keys. They’ll support more than 20 soloists who’ll sing songs made famous by some of the original “We Are the World” acts. The bill includes Holler, Cullen Baney, Charles Carmody, Steven Fiore, Dan Hanf, Rachel Kate, Aaron Levy, Vikki Matsis, Thomas McElwee, Maya Morrill, Emily Painter, Brittany Puite, Johnny Puke, Elliott Smith, Jimmy Snyder, Laura Jane Vincent, Doug Walters, and others.
“It’s a lot of work for the band, learning all of these songs,” Holler says. “Each of these guys will spend some time with the songs on their own, and we’ll get one rehearsal with the singers. It’s a little bit fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants, but somehow, it always works out. There will be some repeat performers, too. I initially gave everyone the option to keep their artist or switch it out. Some people wanted to switch and some people didn’t. Ray Charles is raring to go!”
Will “We Are the World” become a bona fide annual Charleston tradition with a rotation of new and recurring musicians? “That question will have to be answered after the show on Sunday,” Holler says.
“We Are the World” takes place at the Pour House at 7:30 p.m. on Sun. Jan. 5. Admission is $10. Proceeds will benefit the Charleston Animal Society
Top phot by Stefan Rogenmoser.
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