At its time, this was a Who's Who of the Music Industry
There comes a time, when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
In 1984, Ethiopia was struck by a famine, making headlines across the world. The famine also struck the conscience of the entertainment industry, with the release of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid that same year. Not long after, American entertainers decided to put together their own effort to raise funds and awareness for Ethiopia.
Enlisted by Harry Belafonte, Lionel Richie
contacted Michael Jackson
, who agreed to perform and help with writing. Belafonte also contacted Kenny Rogers
, Stevie Wonder
and Quincy Jones
, who assisted with conducting and producing the song.
Richie, Jackson, Wonder and Jones continued to tweak the lyrics up to the first recording session, and a special track was prepared for the performers who would be invited to perform on January 28. Included in the lineup were Ray Charles
, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Paul Simon
, Bruce Springsteen
and Willie Nelson
, with a vast choir that included Dan Aykroyd
, Bob Geldof, Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters and the rest of Jackson's family.
"We Are the World" was released on March 7, 1985, reaching number one on the R&B Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100, and raising $10.8 million within four months. Since then, the record has raked in $63 million, put toward both short-term and long-term humanitarian relief projects, with 10% of the funds also being used for domestic hunger and homeless programs.
Twenty-five years on, in February 2010, a new version of "We Are the World" was recorded and released following the Haiti earthquake, reuniting Richie and Jones for its production, with a rap verse written by Will.i.am
. Material recorded by Jackson from the original was also interwoven into the new version, which features Wyclef Jean, Josh Groban
, Janet Jackson
, Lil Wayne
and other well-known artists. All proceeds from the song were used by the newly formed We Are The World LLC
to help with relief efforts in Haiti.
"We are the tropes":
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Jackson originally had the African-sounding "sha-lum sha-lingay" as the response lines in the chorus, until Geldof said that using gibberish like that might be considered offensive. Stevie Wonder called a friend who suggested some lines in Swahili instead, but Ray Charles and Waylon Jennings objected to having to learn phrases in a foreign language on short notice, and others pointed out that Swahili isn't even spoken in Ethiopia. Eventually the lines ended up as "one world, our children."
- Blind Musician: Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. Who actually lampshaded this on the night by threatening that if it wasn't done in one take, the pair of them would be driving people home.
- Charity Motivation Song: To help raise money for charities helping in Ethiopia.
- Follow the Leader: While "Do They Know It's Christmas?" preceded it, this was the song that popularized the Charity Motivation Song genre in the U.S., although the former is still the better-known song in the UK. Songs that came in its immediate wake included:
- "Stars", performed by Hear 'n Aid, a group of Heavy Metal performers organized by Ronnie James Dio. This was also for African famine relief.
- "That's What Friends Are For", performed by Dionne Warwick and Friends (Elton John, Stevie Wonder, etc.), a cover of a song from Night Shift that served as one of the first charity projects addressing the AIDS epidemic.
- "Hands Across America" was the theme song of a USA for Africa follow-up project that focused on helping the homeless in the United States.
- Mega Crossover: You know, for charity!
- Melismatic Vocals: Present and correct.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change