More than half a century ago, Burt Bacharach penned the melody for “What the World Needs Now,” a plea for global peace that has provided solace in times of tragedy and a rallying cry for those who want a more tolerant future. Now the titan of American popular music — boasting two Oscars and an astonishing 73 Top 40 hits including “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Alfie,” “The Look of Love,” and “Raindrops Keep Falling’ on My Head” — has teamed up with Grammy-winning Latin composer and super-producer Rudy Pérez to create another timeless anthem of compassion. Today PEOPLE has the exclusive premiere of their new song “Live to See Another Day,” a stirring response to the school shootings that occur with alarming regularity across the country.
“School should be a safe place,” Bacharach, 90, tells PEOPLE from his home in California. “When I went to school, which was a long time ago, my chief concern was what grades would I get. There never was a thought of a shooter. It’s unimaginable to me, yet it happens too often. I thought, ‘What do I do?’ I get grounded by writing music. I have something to say, so I said it by writing a song with Rudy Pérez.”
The deeply emotional track is given a double dose of heart by two high school-aged vocalists: 16-year-old Haven Star, a blues-belting Florida native who has shared the stage with the likes of Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck, and 14-year-old America’s Got Talent veteran Angelina Green. The Miami Symphony Orchestra, under the stewardship of Maestro Eduardo Marturet, provides the shimmering cinematic grandeur that has become Bacharach’s trademark.
“I’d a lot heard about Rudy. He’s Miami based and he’s very big in the Latin community,” Bacharach says of his partnership with Pérez. “He came out here and we sat around the piano. It’s a process, you know? You play something and some words come and it kind of snowballs like that — if you’re doing well. It’s the only song that we ever wrote and I’m so glad we did.”
Both the song and the affecting Deviants Media-produced video, set in a starkly empty high school campus, are dedicated to survivors of school gun violence. What’s more, all net proceeds from “Live to See Another Day” received by the songwriters will be donated directly to Sandy Hook Promise, a national violence prevention organization dedicated to identifying, assessing any individuals exhibiting at-risk behaviors. “We’ve got to protect kids going to school. They should be going without fear,” says Bacharach. “So I’ll do whatever I can to push this forward.”
In recent months he’s met with the organization’s cofounders, Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley — both of whom lost children in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012. “We are grateful to Burt and Rudy for using their talents to create this powerful song that will affect change around the epidemic of gun violence in schools across the country,” they tell PEOPLE in a joint statement. “It reminds people that we need to come together to look out for one another, and that change is possible. It is incredibly generous of them to donate the proceeds from the song to Sandy Hook Promise, as it will help us to train more schools and students how to spot at-risk behaviors and take action before violence occurs, as well as how they can create more inclusive and connected communities. We hope that the song will resonate with people and drive them to learn more about our gun violence prevention programs and the positive impact we are all making together.”
For Bacharach, the partnership has a painful twinge of déjà vu. In June 2016, just three days after a shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub left 49 were dead and more than 53 injured, some of Broadway’s brightest stars came together to sing “What the World Needs Now” to raise money and morale for those impacted by the massacre. The optimism of the recording session, and the message of the lyrics, provided a temporary salve, yet the shootings still continue at a horrifying rate. “It kind of rips you apart because you get the hope and then you get the hope shattered,” Bacharach says. “And then you get another thimble of hope, another song, another couple statements from Congress. And nothing gets done. So I’ve got no choice but to keep on writing and keep on doing concerts.”
Though Bacharach says that he plans to work with candidates for the impending midterm elections in November, he insists that school gun violence isn’t a political issue but a humanitarian one. “The song that Rudy and I wrote doesn’t go after the NRA. It’s just really trying to bring forth compassion and understanding and love,” he explains. “If it touches your heart, maybe it’ll have some relevance and move things along. That’s why we’re doing it.”
“Live to See Another Day” will be available on digital platforms, including Spotify and iTunes, starting on Sept. 21. Anyone who would like to donate to help eliminate violence in our schools through the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation can visit Live to See Another Day Donation or www.sandyhookpromise.org.