A new video for a song called "We Are Not Afraid" that raises fund for victims of religious and political violence around the world has attracted the participation of the likes of Yoko Ono, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Bruce Springsteen, Robert De Niro, Sting and Patti Smith, among others. Ono became the first to agree to participate after her photographer friend Bob Gruen, who snapped many iconic photos of her and John Lennon before Lennon's 1980 death, brought the project to Yoko's attention. "(Yoko) immediately offered to put together the long form 'We Are Not Afraid' video when told of our plan. And for that we are deeply grateful," said creator-organizer Steve Weitzman in a statement. Weitzman says the eight-minute video was expanded from its original planned four-minute length because so many celebrities, which also include Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Chuck D, Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Debbie Harry, Dion and Elvis Costello, signed on. The video, which premiered in November, shows the stars holding signs with the song title and the music was written by Nigerian singer-songwriter Majek Fashek. It is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and other major outlets, with proceeds going to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). "It's a positive statement in a negative world," said Bob Gruen in a statement. "I hope it becomes something that inspires people around the world to do their own versions. You shouldn't go through life being afraid." Yoko Ono adds, "We're all together now!" More info can be found at the wearenotafraid.net website. - Billboard, 12/23/16...... The Beach Boys revealed on Dec. 22 that they have been asked to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration in January, but a spokesman for the band says they have not yet made a decision whether to appear. The iconic California pop band has performed at past presidential events for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and First Lady Nancy Reagan once came to the defense of the band in the 1980s after then-Secretary of the Interior James Watts in April, 1983, opposed the Beach Boys and the Grass Roots from performing on the Washington Mall on the Fourth of July because they attracted an "undesirable element." The Beach Boys did play in Washington on July 4, 1984 after Mrs. Reagan personally invited them, and she became a close friend of the band. Meanwhile, Gene Simmons has reportedly "politely declined" an invitation for KISS to play at Trump's inauguration, according to TMZ.com. In a clip posted on the site, a TMZ reporter asks, "Gene, you're the rock'n'roll Donald Trump, will you play at the inauguration?" when Shannon Tweed, his wife, and their daughter Sophie, 'screamed out "No!" quickly and repeatedly.' Tweed then grabs Simmons' cheeks, and made him mouth "No." He then said "he's our president" and "people need to get over it."' The President-elect is understood to be having great difficulty booking acts to perform at his inauguration, and the line-up for his pre-inauguration "All-American Ball" is less than stellar, with Nashville singer/songwriter Beau Davidson, '80s cover band The Reagan Years, and The Mixx, who are billed as "the Mid-Atlantic's hottest Party Band!" In related news, actor Alec Baldwin, who lately often portrays Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, has offered to sing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" at the inauguration. "I wanna perform at Trump's inauguration. I wanna sing HIGHWAY TO HELL," Baldwin tweeted on Dec. 23, also adding: "Inauguration Day means the beginning of the countdown to when he will be gone. And he will be gone." - Billboard/New Musical Express, 12/22/16...... On Dec. 3, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler received the United Nations Humanitarian Award for his work with the non-profit organization Janie's Fund, which helps young women who are victims of abuse, and Tyler says he was "just flabbergasted" with the honor. "It's been a great two years, doing the country record, launching Janie's Fund and when I got offered this place for the U.N. Humanitarian," Tyler later said. "I usually don't wake up in the morning and think 'I'm Steven Tyler in Aerosmith.' I don't think of it like that, but it really was a beautiful end of this year. I was just flabbergasted." Tyler, who offered 100 percent of the proceeds from an auction of his prized Hennessey Venom GT sports car to Janie's Fund, accepted the award with an impassioned speech addressing global warming and climate change, and performed two Aerosmith songs, "Livin' on the Edge" and "Dream On," backed by a classical quartet. While some reports have suggested that Aerosmith may retire, Tyler has a different take. "The European tour is booked, locked and cocked and that's ready for next summer. And then we're coming back and we're doing the rest of the world," he says. He added that Aerosmith "has no right being as healthy as we are after what we've been through" and that we're "looking pretty damn good for what's going on." "Being away from each other is sometimes the healthiest thing we can do," Tyler said of his recent furlough from the band. "You know? I dare to say that being away from each other may have saved a few marriages on this planet," he says. - Billboard, 12/22/16...... Twitter accounts belonging to Bob Dylan and Sony Music were hacked on Dec. 26, with false reports of the death of Britney Spears. The first message came from the Sony Music Global Twitter account, which read "RIP @britneyspears #RIPBritney". It was quickly followed by a second, "britney spears is dead by accident! we will tell you more soon #RIPbritney". A similar tweet was soon posted from Bob Dylan's official Twitter account. The hacks reportedly came from OurMine, a hacker group advertising their security expertise who were also responsible for recent hacks of the Marvel and Netflix accounts. - NME, 12/27/16...... Actress/author Carrie Fisher, famous for her role in the 1977 Star Wars film and who recently appeared in a new installment of the sci-fi series, is in "stable condition" according to her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, after suffering a medical emergency on a flight between London and Los Angeles on Dec. 23. Fisher, 60, suffered a cardiac arrest on a flight between London and Los Angeles on Dec. 23, and was later admitted to a Los Angeles hospital in "critical condition." Reynolds tweeted on Dec. 25 that the family would share any updates on Fisher and thanked the public for its "prayers & good wishes." Fisher is also known for such books as Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking. - AP, 12/26/16...... Guitarist/singer Rick Parfitt of the veteran British rock band Status Quo died on Christmas Eve following complications from a shoulder injury he sustained in a fall. He was 68. "He died in hospital in Marbella, Spain as a result of a severe infection, having been admitted to hospital on Thursday evening following complications to a shoulder injury incurred by a previous fall," Parfitt's manager Simon Porter said in a statement. Parfitt was a member of Status Quo for nearly 50 years, spanning from 1967 until October of this year, when the guitarist announced his retirement from performing live after suffering a heart attack earlier in 2016. Formed as the Scorpions and then the Spectres by guitarist Francis Rossi and bassist Alan Lancaster in 1962, the band changed their name to the Status Quo in 1967 with the addition of Parfitt. The band released their debut LP Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From the Status Quo in 1968 which featured the psychedelic anthem and Top 10 Hot 100 single "Pictures of Matchstick Men." Parfitt recorded over 30 albums with Status Quo during his tenure in the band, including co-writing some of their biggest hits like "Whatever You Want," "Again and Again," "Rain" and "Living on an Island." The band also served as the opening band at the monumental Live Aid concert in 1985, performing three songs at London's Wembley Stadium. "We are truly devastated to have to announce that Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt has passed away," Parfitt's family said in a statement. On Dec. 24, Queen guitarist Brian May tweeted: "Shocked and so sad to hear of the passing of Rick Parfitt. Hard to find words. You truly joyfully rocked our world. RIP dear buddy." - AP, 12/24/16...... Iconic 1980s pop singer George Michael, who began his career in the 80s singing in Wham! and went on to have a successful solo career in pop music, died at his home in Oxfordshire, U.K. on Dec. 25. He was 53. Michael, who sold more than 100 million albums over a career spanning four decades, had previously struggled with various forms of substance abuse. The circumstances of his death are not well known, however his publicist did issue this statement: "It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period. The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage." The London-born singer, whose birth name was Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, began his career in the '80s with Wham! before eventually going onto find more success as a solo artist. In July 2006, Michael was accused of anonymous public sex at London's Hampstead Heath, and he officially came out as gay in 2007. After many other scrapes with the law and the tabloids, he would become more reclusive as the years went on. In the U.S., he was seen in the TV series Eli Stone and performed on American Idol in 2008. He also released a new track that year called "December Song," via his website for free. He sold more than 100 million albums throughout his career and had been recently reported to be working on a new album with Naughty Boy. Michael's friend and collaborator Elton John is among the many musicians and celebrities offering their condolences : "I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend -- the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and his fans." - Billboard/NME, 12/25/16.
An a cappella version of Paul McCartney's yuletide ditty "Wonderful Christmastime" featuring the former Beatle himself was aired on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Dec. 20. With host Jimmy Fallon's house band The Roots providing backup vocals, lyrics from "Wonderful Christmastime" were delivered by Fallon, then animated versions of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and singer Tori Kelly before Macca appeared to finish the song, which was first released in 1979. McConaughey, Witherspoon, Johansson, MacFarlane and Kelly are all starring in the new animated film Sing. - New Musical Express, 12/21/16...... In other Beatles-related news, Yoko Ono will appear in the cast of director Wes Anderson's next film, an animated movie called Isle of Dogs about a group of dogs living on an island. Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johannson, Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton will also be providing vocal tracks for the film. Meanwhile, classic videos by Yoko's deceased husband John Lennon have been added to YouTube, just in time for Christmas. Solo songs by John including "Imagine," "Jealous Guy" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" are among the over 20 clips now streaming on the popular online video service for free. "Happy Holidays! love, yoko," wrote Ono as she shared the news on Twitter on Dec. 18. - Billboard/NME, 12/22/16...... In still more Beatles news, a French fan of the Fab Four has announced he will sell 15,000 items of Beatles memorabilia in hopes that it will pay for his retirement. Jacques Volcouve will put his collection of records, signed books, posters, autographs and figurines up for auction at the prestigious Drouot auction house in Paris on March 18, 2017. "The Beatlemania bug bit me and I was never cured of it," Volcouve told the paper The Observer. Volcouve says he has met Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in person and claims to have met Yoko Ono. "I hope the sale will give me enough money to live on decently until I die, and my collection will have a new life with someone else," he said. - NME, 12/19/16......A one-block stretch of Detroit's Milwaukee Street was renamed Stevie Wonder Avenue on Dec. 21 in honor of the Motown legend. Attending the unveiling of the street sign in Detroit's New Center area, Wonder sang a bit of "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" before telling fans "I want all of us to walk down the street that leads us to a place of humanity, equality, of fairness and respect for each other." Referring to the recent presidential election in which President-elect Donald Trump suprisingly carried the blue-collar state of Michigan, Wonder said, "Don't let the color of the state define who you are. Don't let negativity say this is what you are. Don't let hatred and ignorance determine who you are... Be a part of fulfilling the promis ... to really make this city, this station, this nation a truly united people of the United States, of the world." After the ceremony, told reporters that he promises to stage one of his House Full of Toys holiday benefit concerts, which he's done during the past 21 years in Los Angeles, in Detroit for Christmas 2017. Meanwhile, Wonder and singer Ariana Grande appear in a new video for a song called "Faith" for the upcoming animated musical-comedy Sing, which was released on Dec. 21. - Billboard, 12/21/16...... A Minneapolis judge has ordered Prince divorce file opened in Jan. 2017 over the objections of Prince's ex-wife, Manuela Testolini. The Dec. 21 order says the records from the couple's 2006 divorce will be made public Jan. 13, as requested by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Testolini was the second wife of Prince, who died on Apr. 21 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl. - AP, 12/21/16...... James Taylor announced on Twitter on Dec. 21 that he will be canceling his February 2017 concert in Manila, Philippines, saying reports of summary executions of suspected drug offenders in the country without judicial proceedings are "deeply concerning and unacceptable." Taylor said he had been looking forward to performing in Manila and that it saddened him to cancel the concert. He then apologized to his Filipino fans and said all tickets sold for the Feb. 25 performance at Manila's Mall of Asia Arena would be fully refunded. Philippino president Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a crackdown on illegal drugs since he was elected in June 2016, which has left more than 6,000 people dead to the dismay of Western governments and human rights watchdogs. "Recent reports from the Philippines of summary executions of suspected offenders without trial or judicial process are deeply concerning and unacceptable to anyone who loves the rule of law," noted Taylor, who says his scheduled concerts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand would not be affected. - AP, 12/21/16...... The site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, N.Y., where some 400,000 music fans famously gathered on rolling farmland for three days of rock music in Aug. 1969 is among 26 properties that have been nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the nominations on Dec. 20, and landing a place on the registers can help property owners and organizations secure preservation grants and historic rehabilitation tax credits from the state and federal governments. - AP, 12/21/16...... The Class of 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced on Dec. 20, with first-time nominees Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur joining three-time nominee Yes for induction into the Cleveland-based hall and museum next year. "It's totally exciting," says Yes drummer Alan White. "It's a great pleasure to be recognized for something you've been doing all your life and get recognition in the industry for the amount of work you've put in and to have done something that changed the course of history, I guess, over time," he added. Journey, who along with Yes and ELO have often been cited as Rock Hall snubs in previous years, topped the fan ballot conducted by the Rock Hall, with 250,758 votes. ELO, Pearl Jam and Yes were also in the top five and each received a vote added to the tally cast from more than 900 Rock Hall voters. Acts are eligible for the Rock Hall 25 years after the release of their first recording. Nile Rodgers, the frontman of 11-time nominee Chic, will also receive an Award for Musical Excellence at the 32nd annual RRHOF induction ceremony, which is set for Apr. 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Others on the ballot this year who were passed over included J. Geils Band, Steppenwolf, The Cars, MC5, The Zombies, Chaka Khan, Joe Tex, Janet Jackson, Jane's Addiction and Bad Brains. - Billboard, 12/20/16...... In more award news, Sly Stone, The Velvet Underground and Nina Simone are among the musical acts set to be honored at the 2017 Grammy Awards with a Special Merit Award. Gospel singer Shirley Caesar, jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, country singer Charley Pride and the "Father of Country Music" Jimmie Rodgers will also be honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Grammy Special Merit Awards, which takes place during the pre-Grammy festivities in Feb. 2017. - New Musical Express, 12/20/16...... Independent music services company Kobalt has struck a deal to administer and provide publishing services for a vast majority of Elvis Presley's catalogue of more than 1,000 songs through a new administrative agreement with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) and Elvis Presley Enterprises, LLC. The arrangement takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017 and includes some of the "most desired tracks for film and TV trailers, soundtracks, and commercials," Kobalt said in a statement. Presley's music continues to establish new records and find new fans almost 40 years after his death, and 2017 should be another banner year for the King, as it is the 40th anniversary of the legendary singer's Aug. 16, 1977 death. - Billboard, 12/19/16...... Sole surviving Bee Gees member Barry Gibb has scrapped his 2017 "In The Now World" Tour of Australasia and canceled his appearance at the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest citing a "change in international commitments." Gibb had been scheduled to play eight arena, winery and festival shows, starting April 8 at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and wrapping April 29 at Qudos Bank Arena (formerly Allphone Arena). Those dates won't be rescheduled and refunds will be made available for all ticket holders for Gibb's headline shows, according to a statement by Live Nation, the tour's producer. Gibb's shows were meant to be a sort of homecoming for the artist, whose British-born family got an early break in music after relocating to Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, in the late '50s. It was at the family home in Redcliffe where Gibb and his younger brothers Maurice and Robin Gibb signed their first record contract, and where the Bee Gees name was created. Gibb last performed Down Under for his 2013 Mythology Tour. - Billboard, 12/19/16...... In other Oz news, John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John's current Christmas single "Friends For Christmas" has risen to No. 1 in Australia, since first appearing on the chart five weeks ago. Farnham and Newton-John's last collaborative album, the live LP Two Strong Hearts, also reached the top spot on Australia's national albums chart for three weeks, giving the popular duet pair their second consecutive No. 1 in as many years. - Billboard, 12/18/16...... A UK air date for the David Bowie documentary The Last Five Years will apparently be on BBC Two on Jan. 7 at 9 pm GMT, three days short of the first anniversary of his death. The date was reported on Dec. 21 by the unofficial but renowned Bowie fan site David Bowie News, with the BBC set to confirm those details in the coming days. David Bowie: The Last Five Years will feature rare and unseen archive footage of the late artist, as well as unheard audio interviews and vocal takes -- including a previously never-before-heard a capella take of "Lazarus." Another Bowie programme, Bowie at the BBC, will air on BBC Four on Jan. 13 at 10 pm GMT. Meanwhile, a Bowie fan has found yet another new "secret" hidden on the artwork for the vinyl LP version of Bowie's final album, Blackstar. "What you have to do is bring the booklet to within about 10cm of a wall in a blackened room and shine a torch on the images that appear in the booklet (such as the stars, the man and woman, the 'Lazarus' title etc, etc,) and what you get is a range of fantastic coloured and 3D images," Bowie fan Chris Gray says. "The lyrics also appear 3D with red shadow colouring." - NME, 12/21/16...... Appearing on the BBC Four's "Desert Island Discs" programme on Dec. 18, Bruce Springsteen said his depression "still jumps up and bites me" sometimes. "It is something that has been a part of my life. It is usually OK, but like Churchill's 'black dog', it still jumps up and bites you in the arse sometimes," the New Jersey rocker noted. Springsteen added that his wife, Patti Scialfa, also helps him battle the condition, as does the right dose of medication. He says that Scialfa sometimes had to see a "freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track." Meanwhile, Springsteen has contributed vocals to guitarist Matt O'Ree's new album Brotherhood. O'Ree is known for his scorching blues guitar, with nods to such classic rock acts as Led Zeppelin, Cream and Black Sabbath. The album is available through O'Ree's website, mattoree.com. - NME/Billboard, 12/18/16...... '60s pop hitmakers The Turtles have lost their suit against Sirius XM radio after New York's highest court ruled on Dec. 20 that the owners of old music recordings can't make radio stations pay for their use. A company controlled by former Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (a.k.a. Flo & Eddie) had sued Sirius, arguing its rights were violated when the satellite radio service plays its old songs including the No. 1 hit "Happy Together" without permission or compensation. Sirius countered it can play the songs without permission because they were made before 1972, when new federal copyright rules took effect. New York's Court of Appeals ruled that state common law doesn't recognize a "right of public performance" that would require radio stations to have permission to play records made before 1972. - AP, 12/20/16...... Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and New Order are set to be among the headliner the Tibet House 30th anniversary benefit show, which is set for Mar. 16 at New York City's Carnegie Hall. 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the non-profit educational institution and cultural embassy Tibet House US. - NME, 12/16/16...... Legendary Hollywood actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor passed away on Dec. 18 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99, just two months shy of her 100th birthday. While the stunning Hungarian-American's rise to fame was slow in her earliest years, by the 1950s and 60s, she had starred in dozens of films and television series and solidified her footing as a Hollywood actress, although she was mostly featured in supporting roles. After being crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, Ms. Gabor immigrated to the U.S. in 1941, and broke through in 1952 with roles in We're Not Married! and Molin Rouge, but over the years, she gained more notoriety for her many romances and was married a total of nine times, including a five year marriage to Conrad Hilton with whom she had her first and only child, Francesca Hilton. "I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house," she once quipped. Along the way, she had affairs with several iconic men, including Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy. Her intriguing personal life was an early example of celebrities driving their stardom by simply being their larger-than-life selves. Ms. Gabor also experienced her own share of debilitating health concerns, beginning in 2002 when she was hospitalized in a coma after suffering a car crash in Los Angeles. Though she survived, she was left reliant on a wheel chair. Three years later, she had a stroke. Then in July 2010, she broke a hip and had it replaced, though complications from a blood transfusion brought her back to the hospital. In 2011, she devastatingly had to have her left leg amputated after a blood clot transformed into an infection. She is survived by her most recent husband, Frederick Prinz von Anhalt, with whom she shared her longest marriage to date. - E! Online, 12/18/16.