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Jackson's Katrina aid CD a song of mystery

October 15, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Nothing is ever easy or quick when it comes to Michael Jackson projects. The latest example: Last month, the fading pop star loudly trumpeted plans to record an all-star charity single for Hurricane Katrina victims. Now that plan, which called for a CD to be ready in two weeks, is either falling behind schedule or simply falling apart, depending on whom you ask.

Charles A. Bobbit, executive vice president of James Brown Enterprises, said, "We heard from Michael's people last week.... It's been pushed back about one or two more weeks. We're told that the song wasn't as Michael wanted it but that it is going forward."

But the manager for a Grammy-winning artist whose name was on the list of Jackson's star-studded choir wasn't as confident.

"It's going nowhere," he said. "We had one phone call and nothing has happened since, and I'd be surprised at this point if it did. We're not really wanting anything to do with Michael right now anyway."

That manager spoke on condition of anonymity, which happens frequently these days when the subject is Jackson, a figure who inspires the willies in many music industry folks, although a good number of his artistic peers retain some measure of admiration for his lifetime of influential hits.

It's been a while since he topped the singles charts ("You Are Not Alone" led the Billboard Hot 100 for one week in 1995), and when he proposed on Sept. 6 the recording of an all-star sing-along in the style of "We Are the World," there was a sense among some cynics that the goal was to help Katrina victims and his own career.

Jackson's spokeswoman, Raymone K. Bain, said Wednesday that all questions will be answered in short order and skeptics will be proved wrong. She said Jackson flew to London last week, where (between a visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum and the stage show of "Billy Elliot") the 47-year-old star was in the studio recording for the song.

A photo hit the Internet showing the rail-thin singer in an untucked red shirt, standing before a microphone and perusing sheet music. "When Mr. Jackson has completed this process, he will be sending the music to the artists," Bain said in an e-mail response to Times enquiries about the project status. "The next phase will be scheduling a recording date."

In his Sept. 6 announcement, Jackson named the heavyweights he said would be joining him in the project: Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, R. Kelly, Lauryn Hill, James Brown, Wyclef Jean, Lenny Kravitz and eight other acts. A publicist who works with one platinum-selling act on the list said the announcement was met with a ripple of irked surprise.

"A lot of the people on that list found out about their commitment when the release came out," the publicist said.

As to the status of any participants other than Brown, everyone seems to be in the dark. "Do you know who is going forward with it?" Bobbit asked. "What I have heard is that some of the singers will not be there. I think some of them may have been enthusiastic at the start but that the delays might be a problem. People are busy."

Bobbit said he heard that R. Kelly had dropped out. Kelly's manager, Derrel McDavid, would say only that the singer's schedule is in flux and that he is uncertain where the entire project stands. Laura Swanson, senior vice president of publicity for Island Def Jam, the label home of Carey, would only say, "I don't believe Michael's done any recording for his benefit single. At least not that I've heard of."

Bain did not answer when asked which artists were expected to join in, nor did she address the suggestion that some artists had been caught off guard by the use of their names.

She did e-mail: "The project is continuing on a fast track as it has been less than a month since Mr. Jackson announced his plans regarding his Katrina Relief effort.... Mr. Jackson looks forward to the participation of the artists whose goals and objectives are the same as his."

(There may be a name issue: The title mentioned in the initial announcement, "From the Bottom of My Heart," turns out to already be in use -- Stevie Wonder's new album "A Time 2 Love" has a track with that name and also comes on the CD bundled with a Katrina benefit single, "Shelter in the Rain.")

Originally, Bain said digital technology would make it easy for stars to send in their vocal contributions from wherever they were, but Bobbit said he'd heard the plan was to assemble everyone on a soundstage in New York, London or Los Angeles. "Mr. Brown will be there, wherever it is," he added.

Jackson has two wildly different experiences with all-star songs written to raise money in the wake of catastrophe. He famously participated in the "We Are the World" recording, which raised millions for African famine relief in the 1980s. His efforts to record a charity single called "What More Can I Give" in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not fare as well. It was delayed, downsized and ultimately became a symbol of his feuding with executives at Sony Music.

Since his acquittal in June of child molestation charges, Jackson has been spending most of his time as a houseguest in the palace of Sheik Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain. The charity single is scheduled to be released on 2 Seas Records Inc., a label owned by the Bahraini royal, who accompanied Jackson to London for the recent recording sessions.

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