Playing for Change


by Chad Campbell, senior producer

I can remember Bob talking about this video and showing it to me in his office about two or three years ago. It features many different artists around the world adding their own instruments and styles to a street musician’s performance of Ben E. King’s 1960’s hit “Stand By Me.” I thought it was pretty cool, but nothing really came of it until I got an email pitch about talking with the founder of the project and a few of the musicians. Before we go much farther, maybe you should watch the original video now.

This was all thanks to the concept and the hard work of audio engineer Mark Johnson, the founder of Playing for Change. Stand By Me was their first “song around the world” -  Johnson and his team have assembled several songs and videos in this manner - starting with a simple solo performance and layering for example, harmonica from New Orleans, drums from the Congo, saxophone from Italy and another vocalist from the Netherlands. Johnson gathered the musicians into a band which just wrapped up a leg of touring. And they have also released two CDs, the latest is called PFC 2: Songs Around the World. In addition to the music making and selling side, there’s also a non-profit organization called Playing for Change. The foundation side wants to “connect the world through music” and has helped build community-run music schools so far in Rwanda, Mali, Nepal, South Africa and Ghana. Click here to learn more about their mission and for ideas of how to donate your time or money.

The Stand By Me video featured three vocalists - the original street performance of Roger Ridley in California, “Grandpa” Elliott Small in New Orleans and Clarence Bekker in the Netherlands. Sadly, Ridley died not long after he was able to see the finished product, but Bekker and Grandpa Elliott, along with band member Jason Tamba on guitar joined us in our performance studio to sing a few songs. They performed A Change is Gonna Come, I’d Rather Go Blind and Stand By Me. In addition to being a member of the Playing for Change band, Bekker also has a solo CD that has just come out. It’s called Old Soul and features covers of Sam and Dave, Al Green, Otis Redding and many others.

Finally, here are a few more videos of songs that Playing for Change took around the world.