SCOTT SIMON, host:
This past year, William James Adams, better known as will.i.am., front man for the Black Eyed Peas, put a campaign speech to music and created a hit.
(Soundbite of song "Yes We Can")
Mr. WILLIAM JAMES ADAM (a.k.a. will.i.am): (Singing) Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can to heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world.
SIMON: The song is called "Yes We Can," after Barack Obama's speech that inspired it. The video is part celebrity endorsement and part campaign anthem. Tomorrow, will.i.am joins countless other musicians in Washington, D.C., for an HBO-sponsored inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Will.i.am, William James Adams, joins us from NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. ADAM: Thank you.
SIMON: Quite a lineup at this concert - Bruce Springsteen, Bono, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow. As I understand it, it's not going to be what we might call a greatest-hits concert, but artists are going to be performing songs related to the theme "We are one."
Mr. ADAMS: Mm-hm. I'll be performing a song called "One Love," written and performed originally by Bob Marley, one of the greats.
SIMON: What do you see this concert as saying?
Mr. ADAMS: The concert to me, you know, what it symbolizes is America's growth. If you think about all the protest and all the marches and all the cries for equality, what it means to me is America's graduation.
SIMON: You know, I guess I don't know entirely what moved you to hear that speech. And it's a speech Senator Obama gave after losing the New Hampshire primary, not the one that he gave after winning the Iowa caucuses. What made you decide to turn it into a song, and how did you do it?
Mr. ADAMS: Well, before that, in January, 2007, I talked to Terry McAuliffe on the phone. He called me up and said, hey, Will buddy, we're going to go at it again, and we want you to support Hillary Clinton. I said, you know, Terry, I don't know what the Black Eyed Peas, what we want to do collectively. I don't know what Fergie - who she wants to support, and Ap and Taboo. So the last time we got involved, we knew Kerry was the nominee. It was like, well, even if the Black Eyed Peas don't know, I want you to get involved.
So then he calls in January again. I said, you know, I'm really on the fence. I said, can we wait until after Super Tuesday? He said, sure. After Super Tuesday, we should know who you should support. We need to get a Democrat in the office. And by this time, Hillary's lead will be even bigger. So, OK. So I'm sitting there maybe a week after I talked to Terry McAuliffe, and I'm watching TV. My eyes are glued to the TV screen when Obama gives his speech in New Hampshire.
(Soundbite of President-elect Barack Obama's speech)
President-elect BARACK OBAMA (United States): When we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of apeople. Yes, we can.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. ADAMS: It was a creed written in the founding documents that declared the destiny of the nation, Yes, we can. And that rung to me like it was truth, and that was truth.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. ADAMS: Those words, I was like, wow. But then I thought when I was in school, all the speeches that I had to recite - you know, Martin Luther King's speech and Lincoln's speech and Kennedy's speech - and I pitied that the youth today, you know, there was - there are really no politicians that any child or adult in college can be inspired by. And I wanted to try to get that speech taught in the schools. That was a goal that I thought was achievable.
To say like, yeah, I'm going to get this - I'm going to do my best to try to get this guy elected. You're really shooting for the stars. But if you can have an immediate goal, that I could achieve, like I know I could get a song on the radio. I know how to make a jingle for a campaign or a product. Maybe I can make it into a song and put a melody to the words.
Mr. ADAMS: (Singing) It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
(Soundbite of song "Yes We Can")]
Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing) It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores, and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.
Mr. ADAMS: When I did it, it gave me the chills. And from that speech, I knew who I wanted to support. 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.
SIMON: What issues do you think it's very important for him to follow through on? And please feel free to be as specific as you want to be.
Mr. ADAMS: I live in California, and they've cut $200 million, around there, in education. That's scary to me. We need to fix education. Like that is - it should be just as important, even more important, than homeland security. Creating new jobs is important. I have a Tesla. It goes zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds. It's just as fast, even faster, than my Bentley. It's an American-made car. There's no oil, no gas or water. It's not like the technology isn't there; it's there. And when I get solar panels on my house, then I'm totally carbon free.
SIMON: I ask you this as someone who is in show business. In show business, you learn you have to deal with high expectations. It's difficult when you get introduced to, now, the greatest act of all time. So imagine here you are, Senator Obama is becoming president with people really having a lot invested in his success. How do you meet those expectations?
Mr. ADAMS: You meet the expectations by keeping the people involved and informed. You muster away to continue to inspire people without traditional media. People have to be invested in the success of Obama. Obama isn't just one person. The concept of Obama is we. And that's how you meet the expectations for the we to continue to be involved.
SIMON: Mr. Adams, I can't thank you enough for all your time.
Mr. ADAMS: Oh, thank you so much.
SIMON: Do we call you Mr. i.am?
Mr. ADAMS: No, it's cool. You can call me Will.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: OK, Will. Speaking with us from NPR West, will.i.am. By the way, it's going to be cold out on the Mall.
Mr. ADAMS: Yeah, I have my wool.
SIMON: Well, thanks very much for joining us.
Mr. ADAMS: Okey doke.
(Soundbite of song "Yes, We Can")
Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing) ...politics suggests that we are one people, that we are one nation, and together we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea - Yes, We Can.
SIMON: You can hear the song and watch the video for "Yes, We Can" at nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song "Yes, We Can")
Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing) ...Shining sea. Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Yes, we can, Ohhh. Yes, we can.