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Norman Lear Headshot

From the Street to Starbucks and Back Again

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At the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, I was recently introducing the Playing for Change band, a group of street singers from all over the world with whom I am presently associated on the Concord label. I hadn't planned to express this, but out it came. I said that if the world as we know it is to be saved, with all the problems we face, it won't be through politics, commerce or religion, that which separates us; it will be through the arts --the love of beauty; the power of its expression in words and images and music-- that which unites us. And if President Obama, in the seven plus years he is likely to remain our president, plays a major role in this rescue, he will have succeeded as an artist -- in his case an orchestrator and conductor of our common feelings and aspirations -- not as a politician. I couldn't believe anything more.

This feeling started for me a year and a half ago at Austin City Limits, a giant music festival, to which I'd taken my 14-year-old daughter, Madeline, to see several of her favorite bands and performers. On a giant open field with multiple stages, we stood onstage one afternoon while one of her favorite singers sang something acapella, just one voice alone floating out over 25,000 people. And in the broiling Austin sun there stood those people, every age, race and ethnicity represented, as still and as silent as a plant. Now, that was not a new experience for me. I had taken Madeline's older siblings to concerts for a good many years. But, as a result of my relatively recent involvement with Playing for Change, I was seeing the power of music that day in Austin with fresh eyes.

I count on most Huffington Post readers to have seen what has become an historic version of the song "Stand By Me." It's been everywhere on the web and begins with an elderly guy on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica singing his version of the song. A brilliant director and sound engineer, Mark Johnson, happens along, something clicks inside of him, and he make arrangements to come back to photograph and record the piece. Then he takes the sound track, travels all over the world with a small crew, places headsets on street singers in some 20 countries, and films them singing and accompanying the original singer on his track. Nothing so many of us have seen makes a "We are one world, one people" statement better than that eloquent piece of musical film. Discovering that several years ago triggered my fresh eyes at Austin.

My reaction to "Stand By Me" and the songs that followed was repeated again and again, starting with the Concord Music Group and then with Starbucks, where the full Playing for Change DVD has been featured. And it is Starbucks that is about to take to new heights the concept of inspiring and nurturing the human spirit across the globe through its indigenous street musicians.

Today, December 7, in the spirit of its association with the RED campaign, as well as Playing for Change, Starbucks is conducting a live, world-wide sing-along that will span across multiple countries, languages and time zones, featuring artists from around the world singing "All You Need Is Love." Performing in whatever way is customary to their homeland, the performances will be simultaneously streamed over the Internet and simulcast on the Starbucks Love Project website at 8:30 AM, EST. Following the sing-along, on, visitors to the site will have the opportunity to submit their own versions of "All You Need Is Love" for the world to see and hear.

Of course, it occurs to me that all of this could be considered by many as aerie fairy. So it is with feelings. Going back to the president, I would trust his feelings. A little more of them in policy, Mr. President, and you could be our DC Dudamel.