Lin-Manuel Miranda, the “Hamilton” mastermind, was on a family vacation in Austria when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island where his parents were born and where he spent countless summers growing up.
Immediately, he wondered, “What can I do with my skill set to help?” Then he started singing in the bathroom.
Two weeks later, what began thousands of miles away as a raw, a cappella demo in commemoration of his spiritual homeland has become “Almost Like Praying,” an upbeat charity single featuring an all-star lineup of Latin artists from across genres and generations, including Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, Rubén Blades, Camila Cabello, John Leguizamo, Rita Moreno and Marc Anthony.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 2, 2017
The track was released late Thursday across digital music retailers and streaming services, with all proceeds benefiting hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, where at least 34 people have died and millions are still without electricity, food and clean water.
Rather than creating a mournful number, Mr. Miranda said in an interview, he hoped to capture “the spirit of the island.” As a result, the bilingual “Almost Like Praying,” which takes its title and chorus from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “Maria,” from “West Side Story,” is bursting with energy.
In addition to referencing the storm’s name — “How can we flip a section of that song to make something positive out of it?” Mr. Miranda thought — the song’s lyrics consist of various artists naming the 78 towns and municipalities in Puerto Rico. Mr. Miranda said those complex verses were inspired by the outpouring of geographic call-outs on social media from those hoping to locate friends and family on the island during the days of “terrible silence” after the storm.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 1, 2017
“I was very wary of writing a song that felt like homework,” Mr. Miranda said over the phone on Wednesday from the “Sesame Street” offices in New York, where he was recording another number for disaster relief. “I wanted to write a danceable tune that is just everywhere, and by being everywhere, is doing good.”
“There’s no favor I haven’t called in, no avenue I’m not traveling for Puerto Rico,” he added. “I’ll go wherever for help and awareness.”
On his lively Twitter feed, Mr. Miranda has rallied others to do the same, helping to raise nearly $3 million (before the song’s release) in collaboration with MoveOn.org and the Hispanic Federation, where his father, Luis Miranda Jr., was the founding president.
While working on “Almost Like Praying,” the musician also jumped into the political fray, going after President Trump after Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday morning that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them” in the recovery effort. Mr. Miranda countered, “You’re going straight to hell.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 30, 2017
NEW YORK TIMES