Pretty much everyone who was popular in American music in 1985 was there to record this epic song to raise money to help raise money to fight famine in Africa. The idea came immediately after Bob Geldof put together Great Britain’s finest under the name Band Aid to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” a few months earlier.
Right smack dab in the middle of the greed-filled 1980s there was this dash of humanity. People all over the place were talking about ways to help Africans affected by the famine and poverty caused by decades of colonization. I was in 6th grade at the time, obsessed with pop culture but ignorant of African history, as were (and are) most people. Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, and Harry Belafonte were the leaders of this effort, and I listened to them because I was a fan. Maybe our celebrities really do care after all!
I bought the 45. And the album. And the poster. I am pretty sure I had a T-shirt or at least a pin as well. The video was awesome, and it inspired me to learn not only the lyrics but how to imitate those who had solos. Lionel Richie’s cadence. Cyndi Lauper’s adorable passion. Kenny Rogers’ country seriousness. Al Jarreau’s smoothness. Bruce Springsteen’s grunty every guy-ness. Bob Dylan’s…Dylan-ness. (It was almost like he was doing an impression of himself.) Steve Perry’s drama. Tina Turner’s fierceness! Diana Ross’s full on divatude. And of course, I just swooned when Michael Jackson chimed in!
Bruce and Stevie Wonder performed a memorable sort of call and response duet toward the end of the song that is just so much fun to sing along with. But what about all those major stars who were simply members of an elaborate choir? Bette Midler. The Pointer Sisters. Lindsey Buckingham. Other Jacksons. Oates. Did they feel left out? Why couldn’t a 7-minute song allow for everybody to sing a line?
On a serious note, USA for Africa has raised over $100 million to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and the United States. “We Are the World” was rerecorded in 2010 to raise money for victims of the Haitian earthquake, and the We Are the World Foundation, whose board of directors includes Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones, continues to assist the people of Haiti as they rebuild their lives all these years later.
It’s wonderful to see that music can make a real difference, not just for fans but for people who truly do need serious humanitarian help.