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Greenburgh Resident Arranged Iconic U2 Performance 30 Years Ago

Dennis Bell (r) sits with Bono
Dennis Bell (r) sits with Bono Photo Credit: Contributed
U2 performs "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" with Dennis Bell and his choir in Harlem.
U2 performs "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" with Dennis Bell and his choir in Harlem. Video Credit: YouTube

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- In 1987, Dennis Bell helped U2 find what they were looking for.

Bell, a Greenburgh resident, put together a gospel version of the band's hit single "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," from their iconic album, "The Joshua Tree."

Bell and his New Voices of Freedom Choir performed the song with U2 at Madison Square Garden in September 1987. The performance made it onto the album "Rattle and Hum," and on the band's recent re-release of "The Joshua Tree," on iTunes.

U2's record label met with Bell and when they found out he was a choir conductor, asked him to put together a gospelized version of the song. Bell had scored a hit record producing Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick.

Bell's wife was a gospel pianist and his sister-in-law was a jazz singer so he put together an arrangement and gathered a choir made up of high school students and professional singers to sing the song.

The head of Island Records put the kibosh on the single, but Bell persevered and recorded his version anyway. He soon heard that U2 had heard his version and wanted to perform it at Madison Square Garden.

"I knew U2 but I wasn't tremendously familiar with their music," Bell said.

Bell put together his group, calling it The New Voices of Freedom and he rented Greater Calvary Baptist Church to rehearse with U2. The band arrived with cameras in tow and the rehearsal was used in the documentary, "Rattle and Hum." The clip on YouTube has been viewed more than two million times.

The choir performed the song with U2 in the encore at Madison Square Garden. It was the second performance of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," that evening.

"It was everybody's dream come true," Bell said. "It's just one of those magical moments. It sends chills up your spine. I loved working with those guys as musicians."

Bell said he remembers talking to drummer Larry Mullen about jazz drumming and Bono using the church microphone during rehearsal. He said some of the kids in the choir were starstruck singing with U2.

Bono reached out to Bell again and the New Voices of Freedom recorded a version of "Sweetest Thing," that was used in the movie "Scrooged." The New Voices of Freedom disbanded in 1991, but Bell revived the group in 2002 for the MTV Video Music Awards to perform with Jimmy Fallon and James Brown.

Bell said it is thrilling to know how many people still respond to his gospel version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

"It was a very happy musical experience," Bell said.

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