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Al Jarreau: Simple and Necessary Happiness

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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There's nothing more important than that, expect maybe creating a life. Just like that. It's an amazing thing. So being a singer and singing music has shaped my life, and I value that so very much. I do it to the best of my ability, and I am trying to get better; I think I am getting better. I am better in some ways than I was.

AAJ: Let's go back in time to "USA for Africa." What are your memories of that day?

AJ: I remember my management office at the time calling me in the afternoon and saying "tomorrow afternoon a bunch of people are going to get together and do this song that Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie have written, and Quincy Jones is going to produce, and they would love for you to go," and I went the next day. I walked in, and look at the picture; all of those people who came and signed in, most of them are voices that you can't pick out, they are voices in the background. Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis...you can't pick them out, and I got a chance to sing a little solo line. But all those people who you have seen in movies or on TV, and who had shaped so much of contemporary pop—especially for R&B music—were there, to help raise some money to a very worthy cause of people helping people.

Those few people knew that Ethiopia was in trouble during those Days, one of the great moments where people on the planet recognized and understood the message that we need to understand more and more today, as we have more homeless and hunger today than ever before, and yet we produce more food on the planet than ever before. Nobody should be homeless, nobody should be hungry, nobody should be without Healthcare. Denmark, Norway, Sweden...all those places have socialized medicine. What's going on in America? It's a business to make money.

So, anyway, those people standing there that day knew that what's important in this planet is for us to help each other. The value, the worthiness of us as a civilization will be determined by how we take care of each other; not how much money anybody makes, but how we take care of each other. There are many moments like that, and we continue doing it. We have to get together as a community and do it. That's what happened, that was the importance of that moment, and we all knew it standing there: people coming together for people and helping people. I recently saw Sean Penn down in Haiti, building homes, in the mud with a hammer. He brought his money down there. Where's that as a story? My God, it just slipped through under the wire, I just happened to catch it. People helping people.

AAJ: Michael Jackson.

AJ: Ah, what can be said that hasn't been said? Michael was such a gift to the planet. As a singer and dancer, none finer; there weren't any finer. Some people point to Michael as being a modern day Fred Astaire. Well, he was beyond Fred Astaire.

This is not my blackness speaking, this is just what happened in that life, beginning with that five Year-old, and I remember me talking to my guitarist and both of us going "Boy, that kid can really sing!" We're talking about Michael as a five year-old. A phenomenal artist who sadly paid for it in ways that kids who are pushed and prodded at such an early age to be adults usually do. He had to be an adult at a very early age, didn't get to be a kid, and suffered some things because of it. So we lost him really early. But I am telling you, what a shining star—still shining!

One of the last times I saw him was a couple of days before 9/11. It was Monday or Tuesday, just after there was a big Jackson family reunion that got videotaped and that didn't get much attention because of 9/11; but there was a bunch of us in New York City at Madison Square Garden for Michael Jackson and the Jackson family reunion. So, that's what I thought of Michael. Be there, whenever he opened his mouth and whispered my name, "I'm coming! I wanna be like Michael!" Just wonderful, what a tender heart, what a sweetheart. But he had his problems, didn't he? And I don't know anything else to say about that than anybody else has said, but what a voice, what a presence in the planet.

AAJ: You are a very spiritual person. What you say is always positive, in a world like this.

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