American Prayer
by U2

Album: Nelson Mandela AIDS Concert: African Prayer (2004)
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Songfacts®:

  • This began as a song called "46664," which Dave Stewart of Eurythmics was writing with Joe Strummer of The Clash to help support Nelson Mandela's humanitarian efforts in Africa - 46664 was Mandela's prison uniform number and also the name of his foundation. After Strummer died suddenly in December 2002, Stewart took the song to U2, who helped finish the song. In The Dave Stewart Songbook, Stewart explains that Bono called him in the middle of the night and "was very excited and talking in a mixed flow of poetry and stream of consciousness about African history." Stewart put Bono on speaker phone, grabbed his acoustic guitar, and recorded their conversation on a video camera. Says Stewart: "Bono was crafting the words in a way that would make people think about the fact that America as a concept, the bedrock of equality, was a truly great idea. Yet something had gotten lost along the way. Something had gone awry. Bono saind in an interview not long after we started writing the song that he was writing it as 'a person who has rediscovered the poetry of the Declaration of Independence and the taut truth in the Constitution.'"
  • Parts of this song were recorded in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. It became a snowball of celebrity, as Stewart and U2 took the song to Dr. Dre and Bruce Springsteen, with Aaron Lewis of Staind adding vocals before the song went to The Hit Factory in New York City, where Pharrell Williams, Youssou N'Dour, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Luther Vandross (singing the words "Remember me" shortly before having a stroke that ended his singing career) and Oprah Winfrey all contributed to the song.
    Despite the star power involved in creating this song, it was never released. The first time the song was played in concert was November 29, 2003 at Nelson Mandela's 46664 charity concert in Cape Town, South Africa when Stewart, Bono, The Edge and Beyoncé performed the song.
  • Bono taught this song to the final 6 American Idol contestants in 2007, who performed it on their charity show Idol Gives Back. It was the last song performed on the show, and as Stewart says, "They ruined it - but at least the show raised millions."
  • In 2008, Stewart recorded a new version for his Songbook CD. He also put together a video for the song in support of US presidential candidate Barack Obama. Among those appearing in the video are Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Whoopi Goldberg, Speech (from Arrested Development), Cyndi Lauper, Barry Manilow, Pamela Anderson, Joan Baez, Macy Gray, Joss Stone and Jason Alexander. (Read our interview with Dave Stewart.)
  • The song includes part of a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King the night before he was assassinated: "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

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