From 1983 to 1985, more than 1 million people in Ethiopia died from extreme famine. A few months after a BBC report on the famine that triggered the U.K. Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the biggest stars in the American music industry came together in 1985 to record a charity single to help those suffering in Ethiopia, Sudan and other impoverished African countries.
The collection of entertainers called themselves USA for Africa, and their single, “We Are the World,” sold more than 7 million records worldwide and has generated $60 million over the past 37 years.
The song was written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones. The vocals were recorded after the American Music Awards in Los Angeles on January 28, 1985, in a single 8 p.m. to 8 a.m session at Hollywood’s A&M Recording Studios.
The list of those who appear on the song is impressive: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Daryl Hall, James Ingram, Jackie Jackson, LaToya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and the News, Mario Cipollina, John Colla, Bill Gibson, Chris Hayes, Sean Hopper, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, John Oates, Jeffrey Osborne, Steve Perry, The Pointer Sisters, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder.
A video going viral on TikTok shows behind-the-scenes footage of the entertainers singing the song and what’s incredible is just how great their voices are. Even though it’s just a run-through, every one of them sounds pitch-perfect. It’s a great reminder that in 1985, you had to really know how to sing to be a famous singer.
In a post-autotune world, it’s hard to know which singers can actually sing and sadly, not a lot of people care if they can.
When Michael Jackson hits the line, “We’re down and out, there is no hope at all,” in the bridge, it’s spine-tingling. It’s believed that Prince was supposed to appear on the song but didn’t show up at the session, so Huey Lewis got his line.
Replying to @jhcharcoots more rehearsal footage (notice Lionel “fix” Kenny’s part) #wearetheworld #rehearsal #80s
A funny video from the sessions is always making the rounds on social media. Bob Dylan looks completely out of place in a room full of flashy ’80s celebrities and appears to have no idea what everyone is singing. Dylan’s “mood” in the room has become a universal representation of what it feels like to be part of a group project without having read the book.
\u201cCurrent mood: Bob Dylan singing We Are The World\n#shouldntyoubewriting #phdoggammit #TRENT #trentuniversity @TrentUniversity\u201d
— Basilisk (@Basilisk) 1670918460
The USA for Africa project didn’t stop with “We Are the World.” Since 1985, it has raised more than $100 million for people struggling with poverty and malnutrition in Africa and the U.S. It also encouraged many to become an agent of change in their own right.
“‘We Are the World’ motivated millions to become activists in their own way. Their bold, individual and collective power brought change to their communities and beyond. Lives were transformed,” Marcia Thomas, USA for Africa’s executive director said. “Access to food, education, health care and peace became a reality for many who had been left out. ‘We Are the World’ became a movement…your movement. And… it still resonates.”