Michael and Katrina, August 29th, 2005: When a Birthday and a Tragedy Intersected

Photo Released During The Recording Of "From The Bottom of My Heart," Michael's Song For Katrina Relief
Photo Released During The Recording Of “From The Bottom of My Heart,” Michael’s Song For Katrina Relief

Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly celebrating his 47th birthday on August 29th, 2005. Not only had he just undergone the horrific ordeal of the Arvizo trial during the first half of the year, but it also happened that August 29th, 2005, was the day that Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, precipitating one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The death toll was in the thousands (though to this day, there remains no official, accurate count of just how many died in Louisiana alone), and no one can forget those horrific images of flooded New Orleans and those hundreds of stranded residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t flee. Many of Katrina’s victims were from the poor areas around the Ninth Ward, which not only received the worst flooding but also, where there were many residents who didn’t have transportation or money to evacuate.

I was aware that Katrina had hit on the same date as Michael’s birthday, though in past years I had never really given much thought to the connection. However, with this year being the tenth anniversary of Katrina, I had been thinking a lot more lately about this coincidence, and wondering, if anything, what Michael’s reaction had been. I also wondered if he had planned any kind of relief effort, as he had done with so many past tragedies, from the famine in Ethiopia, to 9/11, to the tsunami disaster in 2004.

I didn’t have to search very long or hard to find that answer. Even though Michael’s spirit had been crushed by a humiliating trial; even though he certainly had plenty of his own woes to think about, and even though he had by then turned very bitter against the U.S. and was living in Bahrain, his immediate reaction to the news of Katrina was how to help the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. And apparently, he was giving no thought to the court of American public opinion, or even if such a relief effort could fly in the wake of his name having been so tarnished the previous spring. It isn’t hard to imagine that Michael must have spent his 47th birthday like so many of the rest of us that day, glued to those terrible reports and images coming out of New Orleans. And he responded in the only way a musician truly can. He wrote a song. And apparently, must have done so pretty quickly, because by September 7th, only a little over a week after Katrina hit, the press was announcing his intended charity relief single, “From the Bottom of My Heart.”

Here is the story that appeared on CNN:

Jackson plans Katrina victims song

Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Posted: 5:53 a.m. EDT (09:53 GMT)
Jackson has been staying in Bahrain since his acquittal in June.

SPECIAL REPORT

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) — Pop star Michael Jackson, who has been in seclusion since his acquittal on sex abuse charges, has written a song that he will record to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to his publicist.

Jackson will record the single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” within two weeks, and he plans to enlist other entertainers for the project, spokeswoman Raymone Bain said.

“It pains me to watch the human suffering taking place in the Gulf region of my country,” Jackson, 47, said in a written statement released Tuesday.

“My heart and prayers go out to every individual who has had to endure the pain and suffering caused by this tragedy.”

He added: “I will be reaching out to others within the music industry to join me in helping bring relief and hope to these resilient people who have lost everything.”

Jackson, who left his Neverland Valley Ranch in California for Bahrain after his acquittal on child molestation charges in June, will record the song on a label owned by Bahrain’s crown prince, Bain said, and donate the proceeds to hurricane victims.

Bain said Jackson was hoping to repeat the success he had with “We Are the World,” a 1985 charity single with dozens of the era’s top recording stars that raised more than $60 million for Africa. Jackson wrote the song with singer Lionel Richie.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/07/katrina.jackson/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

In reading this article from 2005, there were a couple of things of interest that I noted. One was Michael’s statement about Katrina’s victims and his emphasis on the fact that this tragedy had taken place in “my country.” I’m guessing he was playing it nice in wording it thus for the media, but I’m sure he must have shared the impotent rage that many African-American citizens were feeling, not only due to the fact that many of the victims hardest hit were poor African-Americans, but as the days had passed, the mounting frustration with the government’s handling of the situation. I think it also shows something else, however. It shows that, when pinch came to shove, his great faith in humanity and that eternal optimism that he could still strive to heal the world had not been tarnished, even in the aftermath of his own greatest, personal tragedy. He apparently still had faith that he could rally celebrities to this cause, and that some good would come from it.

No One Who Lived Through It Can Forget These Horrific Images Of Ten Years Ago:

katrina3

 

katrina

However, within two weeks, “From the Bottom of My Heart” had still not emerged, and it appeared that he was getting very little in the way of celebrity support:

Michael Jackson Working On Katrina Song — But With Whom?

No artists have yet confirmed participation in the benefit single.
by 9/19/2005

 

In his first interview since being cleared of child-molestation charges, Michael Jackson said he’s hard at work on his Hurricane Katrina benefit song, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” and that he’s feeling well after several health scares during the trial.

Jackson told The Associated Press during the brief interview that he’s “moving full speed ahead” on the single.

But unlike “We Are the World” — the 1985 charity hit co-written by Jackson that quickly drew participation from such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel and Paul Simon — so far, no artists have confirmed participation in the recording of the single to aid victims of the August 29 disaster.

“I’m constantly working on it,” Jackson said of the song, which he first announced on September 6. At the time, Jackson said in a statement that he had written the song and intended to contact artists within days and record it within two weeks.

While Babyface’s spokesperson confirmed that the singer is down to record with Jackson, representatives for R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Ciara, Wyclef Jean, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill said those artists have been contacted but have not yet agreed to participate. Missy Elliott’s rep said she and Jackson are in discussions about the song but have not yet reached any agreement. Spokespeople for Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, Yolanda Adams and the O’Jays could not be reached by press time.

Jackson’s spokesperson, Raymone Bain — who last week confirmed the participation of Brown, Jay-Z, Blige, Elliott, Kravitz, Kelly, Snoop and Ciara — could not be reached for comment.

Four years ago, Jackson announced plans for a benefit song for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. “What More Can I Give” featured vocals by Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Reba McEntire.The song was shelved and never officially saw the light of day.

Following his child-molestation trial — which he described as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” in his recent AP interview — Jackson and his children left the United States to take up residence in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where the singer is still “resting and recovering.” Jackson is there as the guest of Prince Abdullah, the son of the country’s king. “From the Bottom of My Heart” is scheduled to be released on Abdullah’s 2 Seas Records.

Jackson, who has not appeared in public since being acquitted in June (see“Michael Jackson Not Guilty On All Charges” ), said “I’m feeling good,” after looking dangerously frail and suffering from various maladies during the trial, including a bad back and the flu.

http://www.mtv.com/news/1509834/michael-jackson-working-on-katrina-song-but-with-whom/

So it appears that Raymone Bain-in yet another of her nefarious blunders-had prematurely released to the media a whole host of celebrity names that hadn’t even been confirmed. Sadly, it seems Michael was trying hard, but no one at that time was jumping to partner up with him to make it happen. However, it’s very possible this wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Michael’s own touted perfectionism could have also been a contributing factor. In interview after interview, he would always assure that he was working “full speed ahead on it.” But obviously, it had not come together in two weeks as originally hoped. What we can gather is that the song was probably still in a very raw state when the first announcement was made on Sept 7; hence, the rather inferior and weak title.

And it is also quite possible that, as usual, the media was jumping to put its own negative spin on the project. Lionel Ritchie was among those whom Michael had reached out to, and Ritchie was quoted in a late 2005  interview as saying the interest was definitely there but the logistics of getting so many celebrities together had not been properly worked out. In other words, it may have simply come down to poor planning and organization.

But according to this Billboard article from February of 2006, the project had finally come together. Not only did the song now have a new and improved title-“I Have This Dream”-but was actually recorded in London on November 1, 2005!

Jackson’s Katrina Song Said To Be Ready

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks.

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks. Nearly six months later, after questions about exactly who would be participating, the prince who has been hosting Jackson during his self-imposed exile in Bahrain says the song will come out by the end of this month.

In a telephone interview from Dubai last week, Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, said, “The record is coming along great. We’ve been taking our time to perfect it and mix it.”

The song is currently titled “I Have This Dream,” and it includes Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, Ciara, Keyisha Cole, James Ingram, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, Shanice, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and the O’Jays, the prince said.

Missing are James Brown, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz, who Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said in September had agreed to participate.

“We were wondering whether or not it was ever coming out,” O’Jays co-manager Andy Gibson said. “They recorded their part of it two or three months ago.”

The prince said the release has been delayed because additional artists wanted to contribute. But he declined to name those artists — “I’d like to keep that as a surprise” — or to name the company he claimed to have secured to sell the song via CDs and the Internet.

Prince Abdullah, 30, plans to release the song on his own 2 Seas label. “Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

Jackson has been living in Bahrain since his acquittal in a harrowing molestation trial last year, and now has a house there, the prince said. He didn’t know if Jackson plans to settle in the country permanently.

Several of the participating artists recorded their portions of the song Nov. 1, gathering at a Los Angeles studio, Bain said.

“James Ingram, Ciara, Snoop Dogg and Shirley Caesar were all there,” said O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert. “Michael produced it on the phone from Bahrain. He talked to Shirley Caesar, he talked to James Ingram. He talked to everyone except me.”

“Overall, it came out very well,” Levert said. “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”

Asked if the song’s release was a harbinger of a new Jackson album, Prince Abdullah laughed and said, “I will just say we’ve been very busy.”

“This is a raindrop before the thunderstorm,” he said. “He’s getting ready to come out with a lot of bells and whistles. He’s so energized. It’s explosive.”

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/59643/jacksons-katrina-song-said-to-be-ready

 

So, from  Prince Abdullah’s comments, we do get a few choice hints of what the song might have sounded like:

Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

And this from Eddie Levert: “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”

 

This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For "From The Bottom Of My Heart." Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good
This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For “From The Bottom Of My Heart.” Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good

Even though never released, the song apparently received sufficient notoriety to be placed among Wikipedia’s listing of charity songs for Katrina relief, where it is listed as having been recorded by “Michael Jackson and All Stars”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_charity_songs_for_Hurricane_Katrina_relief

But sadly, the fate of “From the Bottom of My Heart”/I Have This Dream” seemed to have gone the way of so many planned projects during this phase. I can only guess that Michael’s soured relations with Prince Abdullah, resulting in an eventual court settlement, was probably a major contributing factor. To this day, the Prince is said to be sitting on a goldmine of unreleased stuff, including recordings for a CD that never materialized and a reportedly (but unconfirmed) massive, 600 page manuscript that was alleged to be an autobiography in progress. That these items do exist is, at least, proof that some of the snarkier media reports of the time (which accused Michael of being lazy and completely reneging on his promises by delivering nothing) were unwarranted. Apparently, Michael was not only working and working hard, but delivering, too-at least to a point. It’s just that not much was ever finished, and what was, apparently became the property of Prince Abdullah after the settlement.

Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael's Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions
Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael’s Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions

Whatever the circumstances, it is tragic indeed that not one, but two of Michael’s planned charity relief singles, both for two of the U.S.’s most tragic events in recent history-“What More Can I Give” for 9/11 victims and “From the Bottom of My Heart” for Katrina victims- ended up being sacrificed to greed and litigation red tape. Imagine how much money could have been raised for victims; how much good these songs could have accomplished!

Recording Snippet Said To Be A Demo of “From the Bottom of My Heart”-But Unfortunately, Minus The “Phenomenal” Vocal: 

It could probably be safely said that August 29th, 2005 was far from Michael’s happiest birthday, as he witnessed the images of the terrible devastation being wrought in his homeland. As I was watching documentaries on Katrina’s 10th anniversary the other night, I was also struck by something they said; the fact that one reason the hurricanes of the last decade have been so especially numerous and devastating has been due to the increased ocean temperatures. I couldn’t help but think that it had been exactly ten years prior to Katrina that Michael had prophesied many of these events to come in “Earth Song.” As David Nordahl and I had once discussed, Michael was well aware that we were in the time of the Earth Changes.

But if the devastation and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina did one bit of infinitesimal good, it was the fact that it shook Michael out of the apathy that had gripped him since the trial, and ignited in him the spark to once again, as he had said, “give a damn.” It reminded him that, personal tragedies aside, there was much worse suffering in the world, and that his work to heal the world-his real life’s mission- was far from over. There was still much work to be done. One can only imagine how the failure of this project, at a time when it was so desperately needed, must have chaffed him. But in reading about his enthusiasm for it, I am reminded again of that eternal optimism he had for humanity. When times were darkest, it was where he drew his strength.

On this August 29th, as we, the fandom, celebrate Michael’s birthday, let’s also not forget the terrible tragedy of Katrina and what happened ten years ago on this date. Ten years later, there is still no healing for many. I know that Michael would agree with me 100%-from the bottom of his heart.

11 thoughts on “Michael and Katrina, August 29th, 2005: When a Birthday and a Tragedy Intersected”

  1. Happy Birthday Michael. You continue to be an inspiration to millions of your fans. Hopefully one day we will get to hear this song as well as many others yet to be released. We miss you but we continue to Keep The Faith from the bottom of our hearts where your dream lives in each one of us.

  2. Thanks, as always, for your wonderful articles. You really seem to dig up things I never had any idea about. For example, I had no idea that Katrina hit on Michael’s birthday; I was very little in 2005 and only vaguely remember my parents seeming upset about some big storm going on somewhere…now, of course, I know a little more and it really is just awful. The pictures were almost too much for me, particularly the one with the message written on the rooftop. What is particularly horrible about it all is that there were helicopters taking these pictures and they didn’t stop to rescue anyone. Just recently I learned – through Michael, albeit indirectly – that photojournalists are specifically trained not to intervene in a crisis situation. Just take pictures and move on…

    I also had no idea about this charity single Michael was planning to record (naturally)! Really such a shame that it never materialized; there could have been so much more done to help. I do feel slightly suspicious when I read about artists who didn’t return the calls and didn’t come try to record; was it all bad scheduling, or did some of them not want to associate with Michael after everything that had happened recently?

    Of course, as usual, I find myself having to read between the lines in the articles about the song, because with the media’s style of “reporting” (especially about Michael), the truth often comes out twisted around. Gah.

    Anyway, thanks again for this post! It’s probably good for me to reflect on the fact that while I have it good and I’m celebrating Michael’s birthday, other people are still trying to put their lives back together. Still, I do like to make this a positive day. I’ve also started a tradition of doing something to help others every year on June 25th and August 29th (though I try to remember all throughout the year, but sometimes I forget :P), even if it’s just a little tiny thing. It feels like a birthday present for Michael.

    1. I feel the same way about the media reporting. I only included the articles to give a sense of what the media was reporting on the single at the time. I had the same reaction about the seeming lack of support from the celebrities contacted, although as I cautioned, this was also during a time when the media loved to put a negative spin on anything Michael was trying to do. Spinning a story that no celebs were interested in working on another one of Michael Jackson’s “ego” projects would have been right up their alley. In the end, it seems, they did get a very decent group of celebrity participants, but it was kind of too little, too late and before it could be released, the personal and legal problems between Michael and Prince Abdullah had apparently set in. I feel like there’s just something inherently wrong in withholding what is meant to be a charity project, especially for people who needed the help desperately, but as we know, charity projects just like everything else are always subject to politics and legalities. Michael had had such great success with “We Are The World” and always believed it was a success that could be repeated. I don’t believe he was naive in the least about the obstacle he would face in getting celebrity support, because he had witnessed for himself how little celebrity support he got during the trial. Someone such as Abdullah might have convinced him it would be a good idea, or maybe he just had a renewed burst of confidence and believed it could work. A lot of those who did end up participating were old friends and other African-American artists, who had always pretty much had his back, anyway. But I think this story does help dispel some of the myth that Michael during this time was just a traumatized shell of his former self who wasn’t working, wasn’t writing, or doing anything productive. On the contrary, it seems he was quite busy during this time, and still cared greatly about what was going on in the world.

      1. That’s true, and I did feel better when I saw that a lot of people had signed on; I started thinking, “OK, maybe it was just ordinary communication problems or whatever.” And I do agree; to withhold a charity single because of legal disputes feels wrong. It would be wonderful if it was released, and it could do so much good. It doesn’t matter if Katrina was ten years ago – there are so many troubles in the world that a charity single could be used for almost anything.

        And yes! I hate that myth. Everyone seems to want to perpetuate the idea that he was completely broken after the trial and never did anything again, and I’m just like, “Did you all forget that he was planning a string of concerts just before he died?” I’ll grant you, he was saddened after the trial, but he never just gave up, and he was helping people right up until he passed away.

  3. Thank you for being a chronicler of Michaels life and for giving context and meaning to his work, which is the best birthday presents we could give to him. Also for the example of how he lived his life in line of his beliefs that we have a moral obigation to help those who are less fortunate.
    Michaels physical freedom was limited due to his inhumane fame, but he did not live in a vacume , he was in touch with what was going on in the world at any time.
    I did not know that Katrina happened on his birthday, another coincidence that we see alot with Michael. I remember it as if it happened yesterday, shocked at how inedequate the government /FEMA reacted on the disaster. It must still haunt George Bush seeing on the news that he revisited NO on the 10th anniversary.
    Spike Lees film documentary When the levees broke is a must see testimony of this episode.
    I also like your observation how Michael referred to his country. Though he was an absolute product of American culture , after how his country had treated him, it was more like a love hate relationship. Yet I think he tried to reconnect with his country through these relief efforts aimed at disasters in his own country. It would be interesting to delve more into this relationship.

    For the record, Michaels conflict with sony had alot to do with sony, alledgedly backed by Branca blocking him to release What more can I give. This was a retaliation or meant to pressure / blackmail Michael into following their stance re the promotion of Invincible and because Michael had announced his break with sony. Sullivans book explains some of the background from the pov of Marc Shaffel who was the producer of WMCIG.
    Michael was outraged that a project he had put his heart in and that had the support of so many artists , was intentionally sabotaged. I can imagine that after the WMCIG failure, artists were reluctant to get involved with the Katrina project especially since Michael was abroad .
    It must have been painfull for Michael that another effort of his failed , which was in stark contrast with the succes of USA For Africa /WATW , exactly 20 years before Katrina
    I hope that one day they will honour his wishes and release the songs for what they were meant for. ( which unfortunately will have to involve Marc Schaffel)

    Somehow something special always happens around Michaels birthday that may count as a Bday present. Yesterday in my favorite little niche shop the owner who likes to chit chat with costumers, out of the blue started to talk about Michael. She told me that in the morning before going to the shop she had watched a documentary on tv about him, from his mothers pov. She told me her son is a huge MJ fan but when the allegations broke she tried to discourage him in case the allegations should turn out to be true. Looking back she said it was a witchhunt of a man who only wanted to do good. I told her that it was Michaels birthday which she didnt know and we talked about him for a while. I do not feel the need anymore to go into fan/defense mode whenever the allegations come up, most people are reasonable enough to see wrong and right about the case. I left with a happy feeling(and things I had not intended to buy 🙂 and realized that I often have these kind of coincidences about Michael that maybe are not coincidences at all.

    1. That is true, Sina. The intentional sabotage of WMCIG by Sony is not something that can be overlooked, and I would imagine it did put a damper on other celebrities’ enthusiasm for coming on board another MJ charity event-a reluctance that the high profile Arvizo trial certainly wouldn’t have squelched.

  4. Wow, I get a bittersweet feeling when I read this article. The coincidences, Michael’s birthday and the Katrina hurricane…. the media’s constant negativity, the song not being released, the legal battle with the prince, some celebrities not seemingly supportive, Michael not being that well….sigh. But at least he was recovering (spiritually, emotionally and physically) from that gruelling and horrific trial and doing what he loved, helping people through his music and influence. I just wish it came to fruition, the song, would’ve been good for all the victims affected and him too, knowing he did something. It’s more of a sad article to me, a reminder that Michael was going through A Lot: picking up the pieces and putting them back together, yet still had it in his heart to keep his personal struggles aside to help people, some of whom probably believed the lies, but that didn’t matter to him anyway. Bless his soul, I love him more. Happy Birthday Michael. xo

    1. I agree. I think it would have been a huge boost for him on many levels (spiritually and emotionally) just to have the single out and to know that he had contributed something meaningful, as well as being productive and working again. There remains a commonly held misconception that Michael simply slipped off the radar for four years and did nothing until This Is It, and that is far from true.

  5. Hello Raven, Many thanks for your outstanding articles about Michael. Yesterday I was in a shop and from the loud speaker came Heal the World. When I asked the shop assistant, about 20 years old, if she liked the song, she started talking with emotion and great understanding about Michael’s work and life, pointing out the great impression she had about the humanitarian side of his personality. This is a legacy Michael would be proud of.
    I had the oppurtunity to read Zadie Smith’s essay on The New Yorker dated 2nd July 2015 , the title was “Escape from New York”. The protagonists ,escaping from a devastated New York by the terrorist attack to the Twin Towers were M Jackson, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando. I found this essays really outrageous due to the farsical portrait the narrator gives of the characters, especially Michael depicted as a sort of zombie without emotions and speaking in an unlikely high pitched voice and saying he was able to drive the car used to escape because he was momentary free of all the drugs he used to take as his assistant wasn’t with him. Moreover the character goes on saying he can drive all night as they usually knock him out to make him sleep. the narration goes on without mentioning any feeling of horror for the tragedy. The stars were too much taken by their narcisisist way of thinking. I hope some establishment people felt embarassed by this fiction.

    1. I remember that essay “Escape From New York.” I think it dates back much further because it’s been floating around out there for awhile (perhaps this was a reprint?). I can appreciate parody and satire for what it is-to a point. All celebrities have been subject to it at some time or other, and Michael was certainly no exception. The kind of satire or lampooning whereby certain characteristics of the celebrity are exaggerated and caricatured are common, and I generally don’t get too bent out of shape over those where Michael is concerned. But I don’t like it when they misrepresent his character or when the portrayal seems especially mean-spirited.

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