BetteBack February 23, 1995: USA for Africa raised $61.8 million with a simple song

Kokomo Tribune
February 23, 1995


JAN. 28,1985, was a big night for Lionel Richie. He hosted the American Music Awards and picked up six trophies for himself.

But the rewards were just beginning.

A few hours later, instead of doing the party circuit, Richie was working with more than 40 other musicians in recording the single that would be heard ’round the world. When they were done, “We Are the World” eventually would raise $61.8 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.

The inspiration for the song had come from England, where Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof had assembled a group of British musicians under the name of Band Aid.

Their song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” generated millions of dollars for Ethiopian hunger relief.

The effort had led to similar recordings in Canada, Australia and Germany Meanwhile, Harry Belafonte had been monitoring the tragedy in Africa and wanted to do some sort of benefit for it. He saw the success of Band Aid and went to Ken Kragen, manager of Richie and Kenny Rogers, to get the ball rolling in the U.S.

Eventually, United Support of Artists for Africa was formed. The first plan was for a concert in Madison Square Garden, but that was considered too complicated to organize.

Instead, the group would take Band Aid’s lead and work on a single song.

Richie and Michael Jackson quickly wrote the gospel-tinged “We Are the World.” With the music in place, the recruiting began.

Bob Dylan was one of the first artists to sign on. Others who came on board included Quincy Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson, Daryl Hall and John Gates, Ray Charles, Paul Simon and Steve Perry Even Geldof took part. “I had to turn down something like 50 or 60 peformers who wanted to participate,” Kragen said.

On the night of the 28th, the stars filed into the A&M recording studio, where a sign instructed them to check their egos at the door, and went to work.

Despite the job at hand, much of the night was like a party, with starts meeting each other and getting autographs.

“There was something in that room,” Al Jarreau said of the experience.

“We brought it… but we had a visitation, too.”

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