David Foster and Will.i.am Work on Oprah Together
Edited by Erin Foster
ABOVE, FROM LEFT: David Foster, Will.i.am, Faith Hill, Oprah Winfrey, and Seal onstage in DC.
Ever Wonder how significant events come about? When I started thinking about it, I realized almost every monumental thing (American Idol, Friends, MTV, Obama for President, the automobile) started out with one person. One piece of paper. One lone idea. Then comes the snowball effect.
Recently I was part of one of those “monumental things”; maybe not life-altering, but huge in its own way.
I got a call from my friend Lisa Erspamer, executive producer of Oprah. She had an idea: Could I help put together some singers to close Oprah’s show live from DC the day before the inauguration? It was a more than mildly interesting request, to say the least, but I had questions, such as: What music were we doing? She wasn’t sure. I suggested a medley of the three anthems “God Bless America,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” After 12 hours of work in the studio, Lisa listened to what we had and asked, “How about an original song?” That’s a lot of work, but doable, I said. Then she said, “I think you should do it with my friend Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas.”
Cut to me at Will’s house the next night. He does his best work after midnight. I did too—30 years ago! These days, I’m entering REM sleep by midnight. I quickly see that Will is sweet, talented, and engaging. We jam for an hour with his guitar player, George Pajon Jr., and then Will says, “I think I got it.”
“Got what?” I ask.
“I’ll have a song for you by 5 A.M.,” he says.
The next morning there’s an e-mail from Will, sent at 5 A.M. It’s the song, complete with melody and lyrics. Amazing, I thought. It just goes to show that you’re never too old to learn a new way of doing things.
I built the track, adding the strings, timpanis, cellos, French horns, and other things that would be over-the-top for a purist funk innovator like Will. I needed to; this was Oprah’s closing song for America, which had a new president for a new day.
When I hit Washington I was feeling as patriotic as a Canadian- American can feel. We recorded with our wish list of artists—Seal, Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, and the holy grail himself, Bono. Rehearsal was at 9 A.M, and for once, everyone was on time. The city was gridlocked, everything was buzzing. I met Joe Biden. The whole time he was talking to me, he was shaking my hand. Strange, but cool.
Then the moment came. After the big intro from “O” herself, 10 days of hard work came down to four minutes. Like the bottom of the ninth with two outs or two seconds on the clock at a Lakers game—you get the idea—we let “America’s Song” fly. It was, in all modesty, awesome, moving, and patriotic. The moment was everything Oprah and Lisa hoped it would be, and then some.
One idea, started by one person.
I loved working with Will and getting out of my comfort zone. He’s such a talent. He and I are old school-meets-new school, and I think it worked perfectly for this occasion.
photograph by George Burns/Harpo Productions Inc.