NPR will be the exclusive radio broadcaster of 'We Are One,' the inaugural concert special held at the Lincoln Memorial at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 18. Will.I.Am will perform with many other artists and actors. You can hear the concert streaming live at NPR Music:
Kristian Dowling/Getty Imags
R&B artist will.i.am sits backstage at the V Festival in 2008.
William James Adams, a.k.a. will.i.am, has recorded his share of hits as the frontman for Black Eyed Peas. But he's arguably better known for putting a campaign speech to music last year and creating a hit.
The song, titled "Yes We Can," was inspired by the words of Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. The video, a YouTube sensation, features celebrity appearances by will.i.am, Scarlett Johansson, Common, John Legend and Herbie Hancock, all singing Obama's now-famous words. Interestingly, Obama didn't deliver that particular speech in a moment of victory, but after his loss to Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.
In January 2007, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of Clinton's presidential campaign, called will.i.am and asked him if he was planning to support Clinton in the 2008 election. Will.i.am says he'd decided to wait until after the Super Tuesday primaries in February to make his decision, but that he knew he wanted a Democrat in office.
The Right Moment
After the polls closed in New Hampshire, will.i.am says he witnessed a moment that would secure his endorsement.
"My eyes are glued to the TV screen when Obama gives his speech in New Hampshire," he says. " 'It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation. Yes we can.' And that rung to me like it was truth."
The idea to put the words to music sprung from will.i.am's desire to reach out to voters and inspire them, the way he says Obama has inspired him.
"That was a goal I thought was achievable," he says. "To say, 'Yeah, I'm going to do my best to get this guy elected,' you're really shooting for the stars. But to have an immediate goal that you could achieve... I know I could get a song on the radio."
So he harnessed that inspiration and turned it into a song he sings from the heart.
"When I did it, it gave me the chills," he says. "I was inspired by Obama, and when inspiration calls, you don't send it to voicemail; you answer it. You pick it up. You have a conversation with it."
Sunday, will.i.am joins many other musicians in Washington, D.C., in an HBO-sponsored inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial. (NPR will also be broadcasting the concert live through member stations and online.) Each artist will perform songs related to the theme "We Are One."