Roberta Flack, Patti LaBelle, and a host of celebrities record a new version of "We Are Family" in the aftermath of September 11th

By Evan Serpick
October 05, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

As the shock of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington turns to resolve, musicians—like their fellow Americans—are looking for ways to help. Michael Jackson announced plans for a benefit song with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and others (though its fate became unclear when the couple denied involvement). And proceeds from a remake of Marvin Gaye‘s ”What’s Going On,” set to combat AIDS in Africa, will now be shared with victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

But the first charity single to hit airwaves (on Sept. 28) is ”We Are Family,” a remake of Sister Sledge‘s 1979 smash. Songwriter-producer Nile Rodgers gathered a motley crew of celebs to raise money for the Red Cross and ethnic tolerance education. Exactly how much will go to the Red Cross is yet to be determined.

About 100 people crammed into Manhattan’s Avatar Studios, where Rodgers conducted and Spike Lee shot the video (a smaller group recorded vocals in L.A.). Rodgers positioned Ross, Roberta Flack, Patti LaBelle, and Sister Sledge in front, while nonmusicians like Rosie Perez and Matthew Modine crowded behind. Rodgers told the assembled just to sing their hearts out. ”I’m a really good producer,” he said. ”I’m gonna hook this up.”

Eartha Kitt and Miriam Makeba bumped hips while the chorus sang from cue cards containing a change of lyrics: ”I got all my sisters with me” was turned into ”brothers and my sisters with me.” At the end, the spirited singers chanted ”we are family” for 10 minutes after the music stopped.

Co-organizer Montel Williams attributed the good vibes to a sense of community in New York City. ”People stop and say hello—cabdrivers will even pick me up,” he said. ”Everybody wants to acknowledge we’re all Americans, we’re all family.”

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