On January 28, 1985, music's mega stars gathered together to record "We Are the World." More than 45 artists lent their talents to raise money for African famine relief efforts. To mark this anniversary, we've put together five facts you may not know about this historic celebrity benefit.
Harry Belafonte Got The Ball Rolling
Earlier in the 1980s, a large celebrity charity single called "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released by Band Aid, a supergroup of UK singing celebrities that included Culture Club, U2, Wham!, Duran Duran, and others. The project, organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was a huge success, and Harry Belafonte took notice. If the UK stars could do it, why not the Americans? Belafonte took the idea to music manager Ken Kragen, who then took it to Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie. They shared the idea with Stevie Wonder and Quincey Jones. Quincey Jones brought in Michael Jackson. Once the ball got rolling, the stars, quite literally, aligned.
Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie Wrote The Song
Michael Jackson provided Lionel Richie with a version of the song that included instrumentation and a chorus. The two worked on the song for a week and began recording it the day after the final version was agreed upon. It was quickly decided that the easiest way to handle the logistics of including everyone who wanted to add their talents to the project was to do the final recording after the American Music Awards, when the artists would all be gathered together in one place and could be easily assembled at a nearby recording studio.
Madonna Missed The Boat, But Caught The Wave
Madonna was enjoying her first number one hit "Like a Virgin" at the time "We Are the World" was recorded. The rising star wanted to be included in the project, but her management team advised her against doing so because it would mean she would have to cancel dates on her "Virgin Tour," hurting the launch of her career. She decided to heed the advice of her managers, and it all turned out just fine. Her second single, "Material Girl," hit number two on the charts, and her hit single "Crazy for You" managed to knock "We Are the World" from its top spot.
The Cast Represented Multiple Generations As was befitting for a song entitled "We Are the World," the recording included talent from a wide variety of musicians from multiple generations and genres. Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles were something of the elder statesmen, while Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross were among those that came up at Motown in the 60s and early 70s. Bob Dylan was, well, Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Perry among others, represented the rock side, while Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings brought in the country. In all, more than 45 voices are heard on the track, with 21 having identifiable solo bits.
The Impact Of The Recording Was Huge
The single was released in March and sold eight million copies in the US. More importantly, the song and album raised more than $75 million for famine relief at the time, and it has since been used to raise money for other humanitarian efforts as well. The success of the song led to a series of other such charity recordings by celebrity artists in the following decades, raising millions of dollars for worthy causes.