January 28 1985 – United Support of Artists for Africa records the hit single “We are the World”

January 28 1985 – United Support of Artists for Africa records the hit single “We are the World”
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On January 28, 1985, the United Support of Artists for Africa went on to record “We Are The World”, one of the best-selling charity singles of the world in support of Ethiopian famine victims.

“We Are The World” is a benefit single recorded by some of the best-known stars of the American music industry in 1985, for the victims of famine in Africa. It sold over 20 million copies and raised over $60 million. The proceeds were then distributed to Ethiopia and other African countries as part of a relief project – The USA For Africa.

The project took its inspiration from Bob Geldof’s British group, Band Aid. In 1984, the group had recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas” featuring Bono, Phil Collins, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, and Sting. The hit charity single had succeeded in raising about $8 million for victims of the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia. American singer-activist Harry Belafonte took it upon himself to bring together African American singers to support the famine stuck Africans. Belafonte asked pop celebrity manager Ken Kragen to help out in organizing a black superstar benefit concert. Kragen discussed the idea with Lionel Richie, the celebrated singer/songwriter and the idea of a recording rather than a performance came about. Music composer and arranger Quincy Jones was approached to produce the song who in turn sought the help of pop superstar Michael Jackson. Within a few days, Jackson, Richie, and Jones met up at Jackson’s Encino, California home. They stayed there for two days during which Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie finished penning the lyrics to the song. Kragen soon set about recruiting celebrity singers to participate in the single. Stevie Wonder was the first star to sign up to participate in the project. As word started to get out many other members of the American music industry signed on to it. The artists who went on to sing the hit single with Richie and Jackson were some of the superstars of the mid-80s pop world in the US. Over four dozen artists had to be turned down. Many of the stars who participated did not get to sing solo lines and were included as part of the chorus. The singers who contributed with solos were (in order of appearance) – Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Logins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Michael Jackson (again), Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, and Kim Carnes. Singers in the chorus include Harry Belafonte, Bob Geldof, Bette Midler, Sheila E, The Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, LaToya Jackson, and Waylon Jennings. Apart from these Bob Dylan and Ray Charles also appeared in the music video of the song.

The song was recorded on the night of January 28, 1985. The date was specially chosen as it was the day of the American Music Awards. This meant that all the participating artists would be in town. Produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, the song took over 10 hours of recording. It was released about 5 weeks later.

The artists were all glad to be part of the project. They exchanged autographs. Prince, though invited to be part of the solo singers, declined to join in and donated his exclusive track “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” to the benefit album which was later recorded as a follow-up. His line was sung by Huey Lewis instead. Quincy Jones, who was respected widely in the music fraternity, was responsible for managing the egos of the stars. He picked the lines each singer would sing and taped the spot where each would stand with each singer’s name on it.

“We Are The World” went on to become very popular. It received the Grammy for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Initially about 800,000 copies were shipped, and they sold out within the first weekend itself. The song is one of less than 30 all-time singles to have sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Kragen later headed the relief organization set up by the project called United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa).

On February 1, 2010, in an attempt to recreate the magic of “We Are The World”, a new version of the single was recorded to raise funds to assist Haitians who had lost property and families and had suffered greatly as a result of a devastating earthquake that had stuck on January 12, 2010. Apart from the damages to the country’s infrastructure the earthquake had claimed over 200,000 lives.

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