We Are the World

This article is about the original 1985 charity song. For other uses, see We Are the World (disambiguation).
"We Are the World"
An album cover with "We Are the World" spelled out across the left and bottom in papier-mâché-style. To the top right of the cover is "USA for Africa" in blue text, under which names are listed against a white background
Single by USA for Africa
from the album We Are the World
B-side "Grace"
Released March 7, 1985 (1985-03-07)
Format 7", 12", VHS single
Recorded January 28, 1985 (1985-01-28)
A&M Recording Studios
(Los Angeles, California)
Genre Pop, gospel
Length 7:15
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Michael Jackson
Lionel Richie
Producer(s) Quincy Jones
Michael Omartian
Certification 4× Platinum (RIAA)

"We Are the World" is a song and charity single originally recorded by the supergroup United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa in 1985. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie (with arrangements by Michael Omartian) and produced by Quincy Jones for the album We Are the World. With sales in excess of 20 million copies, it is one of the fewer than 30 all-time singles to have sold at least 10 million copies worldwide.

Following Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" project in the UK, an idea for the creation of an American benefit single for African famine relief came from activist Harry Belafonte, who, along with fundraiser Ken Kragen, was instrumental in bringing the vision to reality. Several musicians were contacted by the pair, before Jackson and Richie were assigned the task of writing the song. The duo completed the writing of "We Are the World" seven weeks after the release of "Do They Know It's Christmas?", and one night before the song's first recording session, on January 21, 1985. The historic event brought together some of the most famous artists in the music industry at the time.

The song was released on March 7, 1985, as the only single from the album. A worldwide commercial success, it topped music charts throughout the world and became the fastest-selling American pop single in history. The first ever single to be certified multi-platinum, "We Are the World" received a Quadruple Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Awarded numerous honors—including three Grammy Awards, one American Music Award, and a People's Choice Award—the song was promoted with a critically received music video, a home video, a special edition magazine, a simulcast, and several books, posters, and shirts. The promotion and merchandise aided the success of "We Are the World" and raised over $63 million (equivalent to $136 million today) for humanitarian aid in Africa and the US.

Following the devastation caused by the magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, a remake of the song by another all-star cast of singers was recorded on February 1, 2010. Entitled "We Are the World 25 for Haiti", it was released as a single on February 12, 2010, and proceeds from the record aided survivors in the impoverished country.

Background and writing

Michael Jackson, an African-American man in his mid-twenties wearing a sequined military style jacket and dark sunglasses. He waves his right hand, which is adorned with a white glove. His left hand is bare.
Michael Jackson in 1984, several months before he and Lionel Richie completed the writing of "We Are the World"
Quincy Jones, a plump bald African American man with a grey moustache and wry smile. He is elegantly dressed in a black brocade jacket with patterned collar over a black shirt.
Quincy Jones was a key figure in the production and recording of "We Are the World".

Before the writing of "We Are the World", American entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte had sought for some time to have a song recorded by the most famous artists in the music industry at the time. He planned to have the proceeds donated to a new organization called United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa). The non-profit foundation would then feed and relieve starving people in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, where around one million people died during the country's 1983–85 famine.[1][2] The idea followed Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" project in the UK, which Belafonte had heard about.[nb 1][4] In the activist's plans, money would also be set aside to help eliminate hunger in the United States of America. Entertainment manager and fellow fundraiser Ken Kragen was contacted by Belafonte, who asked for singers Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers—Kragen's clients—to participate in Belafonte's musical endeavor. Kragen and the two musicians agreed to help with Belafonte's mission, and in turn, enlisted the cooperation of Stevie Wonder, to add more "name value" to their project.[1] Quincy Jones was drafted to co-produce the song, taking time out from his work on The Color Purple.[1][5] Richie also telephoned Michael Jackson, who had just released the commercially successful Thriller album and had concluded a tour with his brothers.[1]

Jackson revealed to Richie that he not only wanted to sing the song, but to participate in its writing as well.[1][6] To begin with, "We Are the World" was to be written by Jackson, Richie, and Wonder. As Wonder had limited time to work on the project, Jackson and Richie proceeded to write "We Are the World" themselves.[6] They began creating the song at Hayvenhurst, the Jackson family home in Encino. For a week, the two spent every night working on lyrics and melodies in the singer's bedroom. They knew that they wanted a song that would be easy to sing and memorable. The pair wanted to create an anthem. Jackson's older sister La Toya watched the two work on the song, and later contended that Richie only wrote a few lines for the track.[5] She stated that her younger brother wrote 99 percent of the lyrics, "but he's never felt it necessary to say that".[5] La Toya further commented on the song's creation in an interview with the American celebrity news magazine People. "I'd go into the room while they were writing and it would be very quiet, which is odd, since Michael's usually very cheery when he works. It was very emotional for them."[6]

Richie had recorded two melodies for "We Are the World", which Jackson took, adding music and words to the song in the same day. Jackson stated, "I love working quickly. I went ahead without even Lionel knowing, I couldn't wait. I went in and came out the same night with the song completed—drums, piano, strings, and words to the chorus."[7] Jackson then presented his demo to Richie and Jones, who were both shocked; they did not expect the pop star to see the structure of the song so quickly. The next meetings between Jackson and Richie were unfruitful; the pair did not produce any additional vocals and got no work done. It was not until the night of January 21, 1985, that Richie and Jackson completed the lyrics and melody of "We Are the World" within two and a half hours, one night before the song's first recording session.[7] The line, "There's a choice we're making, we're saving our own lives, it's true" is very similar to the line, "A star, a star, dancing in the night, With a tail" from the famous Christmas song Do You Hear What I Hear?.

Recording sessions

Photo showing Cyndi Lauper, studio badge, and the sweatshirt given to all attendees at A&M Studios in Hollywood California on January 28, 1985
Back of the "We Are the World" sweater autographed by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

The first night of recording, January 22, 1985, had tight security on hand, as Richie, Jackson, Wonder, and Jones started work on "We Are the World" at Kenny Rogers' Lion Share Recording Studio. The studio, on Beverly Boulevard in California, was filled with musicians, technicians, video crews, retinues, assistants, and organizers as the four musicians entered. To begin the night, a "vocal guide" of "We Are the World" was recorded by Richie and Jackson and duplicated on tape for each of the invited performers. The guide was recorded on the sixth take, as Quincy Jones felt that there was too much "thought" in the previous versions.[8]

Following their work on the vocal guide, Jackson and Jones began thinking of alternatives for the line "There's a chance we're taking, we're taking our own lives": the pair was concerned that the latter part of the line would be considered a reference to suicide. As the group listened to a playback of the chorus, Richie declared that the last part of the line should be changed to "We're 'saving' our own lives", which his fellow musicians agreed with. Producer Jones also suggested altering the former part of the line. "One thing we don't want to do, especially with this group, is look like we're patting ourselves on the back. So it's really, 'There's a choice we're making.'"[9] Around 1:30 am, the four musicians ended the night by finishing a chorus of melodic vocalizations, including the sound "sha-lum sha-lin-gay".[9] Jones told the group that they were not to add anything else to the tape. "If we get too good, someone's gonna start playing it on the radio," he announced.[9]

On January 24, 1985, after a day of rest, Jones shipped Richie and Jackson's vocal guide to all of the artists who would be involved in "We Are the World"'s recording. Enclosed in the package was a letter from Jones, addressed to "My Fellow Artists":[9]

The cassettes are numbered, and I can't express how important it is not to let this material out of your hands. Please do not make copies, and return this cassette the night of the 28th. In the years to come, when your children ask, 'What did mommy and daddy do for the war against world famine?', you can say proudly, this was your contribution.[9]

Ken Kragen chaired a production meeting at a bungalow off Sunset Boulevard on January 25, 1985. There, Kragen and his team discussed where the recording sessions with the supergroup of musicians should take place. He stated, "The single most damaging piece of information is where we're doing this. If that shows up anywhere, we've got a chaotic situation that could totally destroy the project. The moment a Prince, a Michael Jackson, a Bob Dylan—I guarantee you!—drives up and sees a mob around that studio, he will never come in."[9] On the same night, Quincy Jones' associate producer and vocal arranger, Tom Bahler, was given the task of matching each solo line with the right voice. Bahler stated, "It's like vocal arranging in a perfect world."[9] Jones disagreed, stating that the task was like "putting a watermelon in a Coke bottle".[9] The following evening, Lionel Richie held a "choreography" session at his home, where it was decided who would stand where.[9]

The final night of recording was held on January 28, 1985, at A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood.[3][9] Michael Jackson arrived at 9 pm, earlier than the other artists, to record his solo section and record a vocal chorus by himself.[9] He was subsequently joined in the recording studio by the remaining USA for Africa artists, who included Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and Smokey Robinson. Also in attendance were five of Jackson's siblings: Jackie, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Tito.[10] Many of the participants came straight from an American Music Award ceremony, which had been held that same night.[5] Invited musician Prince, who would have had a part in which he and Michael Jackson sang to each other, did not attend the recording session.[11] The reason given for his absence has varied. One newspaper claimed that the singer did not want to record with other acts.[12] Another report, from the time of "We Are the World"'s recording, suggested that the musician did not want to partake in the session because organizer Bob Geldof called him a "creep".[13] Prince did, however, donate an exclusive track, "4 The Tears In Your Eyes", for the We Are the World album.[12] In all, more than 45 of America's top musicians participated in the recording,[11][14] and another 50 had to be turned away.[5] Upon entering the recording studio, the musicians were greeted by a sign pinned to the door which read, "Please check your egos at the door."[15] They were also greeted by Stevie Wonder, who proclaimed that if the recording was not completed in one take, he and Ray Charles, two blind men, would drive everybody home.[16]

I think what's happening in Africa is a crime of historic proportions ... You walk into one of the corrugated iron huts and you see meningitis and malaria and typhoid buzzing around the air. And you see dead bodies lying side by side with the live ones. In some of the camps you see 15 bags of flour for 27,000 people. And I assume that's why we're all here tonight.

Bob Geldof, addressing his fellow USA for Africa musicians during one of the recording session of "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985.[17]

Each of the performers took their position at around 10:30 pm and began to sing. Several hours passed before Stevie Wonder announced that he would like to substitute a line in Swahili for the "sha-lum sha-lin-gay" sound.[17][18] At this point, Waylon Jennings left the recording studio for a short time when it was suggested by some that the song be sung in Swahili.[17][18] A heated debate ensued, in which several artists also rejected the suggestion. The "sha-lum sha-lin-gay" sound ran into opposition as well and was subsequently removed from the song. Jennings returned to the studio and participated in the recording, which bears his name in the end credits. The participants eventually decided to sing something meaningful in English. They chose to sing the new line "One world, Our children", which most of the participants enjoyed.[17]

In the early hours of the morning, two Ethiopian women, guests of Stevie Wonder, were brought into the recording studio—it had been decided that a portion of the proceeds raised would be used to bring aid to those affected by the recent famine in Ethiopia.[18][19] They thanked the singers on behalf of their country, bringing several artists to tears, before being led from the room.[18][19] Wonder attempted to lighten the mood, by joking that the recording session gave him a chance to "see" fellow blind musician Ray Charles. "We just sort of bumped into each other!"[16] The solo parts of the song were recorded without any problems.[19] The final version of "We Are the World" was completed at 8 am.[19][20]

Music and vocal arrangements

"We Are the World"
The structuring of "We Are the World" is said to "create a sense of continuous surprise and emotional buildup".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"We Are the World" is sung from a first person viewpoint, allowing the audience to "internalize" the message by singing the word we together.[21] It has been described as "an appeal to human compassion".[22] The first lines in the song's repetitive chorus proclaim, "We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving".[22] "We Are the World" opens with Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner and Billy Joel singing the first verse.[23] Michael Jackson and Diana Ross follow, completing the first chorus together.[23] Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson and Al Jarreau sing the second verse, before Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry and Daryl Hall go through the second chorus.[23] Co-writer Jackson, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper and Kim Carnes follow with the song's bridge.[23] This structuring of the song is said to "create a sense of continuous surprise and emotional buildup".[3] "We Are the World" concludes with Bob Dylan and Ray Charles singing a full chorus, Wonder and Springsteen duetting, and ad libs from Charles and Ingram.[23]

USA for Africa musicians

  Quincy Jones
Soloists (in order of appearance)
  Lionel Richie
  Stevie Wonder
  Paul Simon
  Kenny Rogers
  James Ingram
  Tina Turner
  Billy Joel
  Michael Jackson
  Diana Ross
  Dionne Warwick
  Willie Nelson
  Al Jarreau
  Bruce Springsteen
  Kenny Loggins
  Steve Perry
  Daryl Hall
  Huey Lewis (also harmonica)
  Cyndi Lauper
  Kim Carnes
  Bob Dylan
  Ray Charles
Instrument players
  David Paich – synthesizers
  Michael Boddicker – synthesizers, programming
  Paulinho da Costa – percussion
  Louis Johnson – synth bass
  Michael Omartian – keyboards
  Greg Phillinganes – keyboards
  John Robinson – drums
Stevie Wonder, a middle-aged African American man with his hair tied in a ponytail, dark sunglasses and stubble on his face. He wears a plain white tee-shirt and a grey jacket.
Stevie Wonder was a featured soloist.
Bob Geldof, a Caucasian man in his mid-thirties, is on stage, singing into a microphone and playing a left-handed acoustic guitar. He wears a white shirt and a dark green jacket.
Bob Geldof sang as part of the chorus.

Release and reception

On March 8, 1985, "We Are the World" was released as a single, in both 7" and 12" format.[24][25] The song was the only one released from the We Are the World album and became a chart success around the world. In the US, it was a number one hit on the R&B singles chart, the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart and the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for a month.[26][27] The single had initially debuted at number 21 on the Hot 100, the highest entry since Michael Jackson's "Thriller" entered the charts at number 20 the year before.[22] It took four weeks for the song to claim the number one spot—half the time a single would normally have taken to reach its charting peak.[28] On the Hot 100, the song moved from 21 to 5 to 2 and then number 1. "We Are the World" might have reached the top of the Hot 100 chart sooner, if it were not for the success of Phil Collins' "One More Night", which received a significant level of support from both pop and rock listeners.[28] "We Are the World" also entered Billboard's Top Rock Tracks and Hot Country Singles charts, where it peaked at numbers 27 and 76 respectively.[26] The song became the first single since The Beatles' "Let It Be" to enter Billboard's Top 5 within two weeks of release.[25] Outside of the US, the single reached number one in Australia, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. The song peaked at number 2 in only two countries: Germany and Austria.[29][30][31][32]

The single was also a commercial success; the initial shipment of 800,000 "We Are the World" records sold out within three days of release.[24] The record became the fastest-selling American pop single in history.[33] At one Tower Records store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, 1,000 copies of the song were sold in two days.[34] Store worker Richard Petitpas commented, "A number one single sells about 100 to 125 copies a week. This is absolutely unheard of."[34] By the end of 1985, "We Are the World" had become the best selling single of the year.[35] Five years later it was revealed that the song had become the biggest single of the 1980s.[36] "We Are the World" was eventually cited as the biggest selling single in both US and pop music history.[nb 2][38][39][40] The song became the first ever single to be certified multi-platinum; it received a 4× certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.[27][41] The estimated global sales of "We Are the World" are said to be 20 million.[42]

Despite the song's commercial success, "We Are the World" received mixed reviews from journalists, music critics and the public following its release. American journalist Greil Marcus felt that the song sounded like a Pepsi jingle.[43] He wrote, "... the constant repetition of 'There's a choice we're making' conflates with Pepsi's trademarked 'The choice of a new generation' in a way that, on the part of Pepsi-contracted song writers Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, is certainly not intentional, and even more certainly beyond the realm of serendipity."[43] Marcus added, "In the realm of contextualization, 'We Are the World' says less about Ethiopia than it does about Pepsi—and the true result will likely be less that certain Ethiopian individuals will live, or anyway live a bit longer than they otherwise would have, than that Pepsi will get the catch phrase of its advertising campaign sung for free by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and all the rest."[43] Author Reebee Garofalo agreed, and expressed the opinion that the line "We're saving our own lives" was a "distasteful element of self-indulgence".[43] He asserted that the artists of USA for Africa were proclaiming "their own salvation for singing about an issue they will never experience on behalf of a people most of them will never encounter".[43]

In contrast, Stephen Holden of The New York Times praised the phrase "There's a choice we're making, We're saving our own lives".[3] He commented that the line assumed "an extra emotional dimension when sung by people with superstar mystiques".[3] Holden expressed that the song was "an artistic triumph that transcends its official nature".[3] He noted that unlike Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas", the vocals on "We Are the World" were "artfully interwoven" and emphasized the individuality of each singer.[3] Holden concluded that "We Are the World" was "a simple, eloquent ballad" and a "fully-realized pop statement that would sound outstanding even if it weren't recorded by stars".[3]

The song proved popular with both young and old listeners.[22] The public enjoyed hearing a supergroup of musicians singing together on one track, and felt satisfied in buying the record, knowing that the money would go towards a good cause.[22] People reported they bought more than one copy of the single, some buying up to five copies of the record.[44] One mother from Columbia, Missouri purchased two copies of "We Are the World", stating, "The record is excellent whether it's for a cause or not. It's fun trying to identify the different artists. It was a good feeling knowing that I was helping someone in need."[22]

According to music critic and Bruce Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, "We Are the World" was not widely accepted within the rock music community.[45] The author revealed that the song was "despised" for what it was not: "a rock record, a critique of the political policies that created the famine, a way of finding out how and why famines occur, an all-inclusive representation of the entire worldwide spectrum of post-Presley popular music".[45] Marsh revealed that he felt some of the criticisms were right, while others were silly.[45] He claimed that despite the sentimentality of the song, "We Are the World" was a large-scale pop event with serious political overtones.[45]

"We Are the World" was recognized with several awards following its release. At the 1986 Grammy Awards, the song and its accompanying music video won four awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Music Video, Short Form.[46] The music video was awarded two honors at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards. It collected the awards for Best Group Video and Viewer's Choice.[47][48] People's Choice Awards recognized "We Are the World" with the Favorite New Song award in 1986.[46] In the same year, the American Music Awards named "We Are the World" "Song of the Year", and honored organizer Harry Belafonte with the Award of Appreciation. Collecting his award, Belafonte thanked Ken Kragen, Quincy Jones, and "the two artists who, without their great gift would not have inspired us in quite the same way as we were inspired, Mr. Lionel Richie and Mr. Michael Jackson".[46] Following the speech, the majority of USA for Africa reunited on stage, closing the ceremony with "We Are the World".[46][49]

Track listing

Vinyl Single
  1. "We Are the World" (USA for Africa) – 7:14
  2. "Grace" (Quincy Jones) – 4:56

Marketing and promotion

"We Are the World" was promoted with a music video, a video cassette, and several other items made available to the public, including books, posters, shirts and buttons.[50][51] All proceeds from the sale of official USA for Africa merchandise went directly to the famine relief fund. All of the merchandise sold well; the video cassette—entitled We Are the World: The Video Event—documented the making of the song, and became the ninth best-selling home video of 1985.[50] All of the video elements were produced by Howard G. Malley and Craig B. Golin along with April Lee Grebb as the production supervisor.

The music video showed the recording of "We Are the World", and drew criticism from some. Michael Jackson joked before filming, "People will know it's me as soon as they see the socks. Try taking footage of Bruce Springsteen's socks and see if anyone knows who they belong to."[24] Jackson was also criticized for filming and recording his solo piece privately, away from the other artists. The singer's supporters reasoned that Jackson was a perfectionist; recording in front of other big name artists would leave him awestruck and unable to perform at his best. He was also known for his shy nature, and the idea of singing solo in front of 44 other famous artists probably sounded terrifying to him.

The song was also promoted with a special edition of the American magazine Life. The publication had been the only media outlet permitted inside A&M Recording Studios on the night of January 28, 1985. All other press organizations were barred from reporting the events leading up to and during "We Are the World"'s recording. Life ran a cover story of the recording session in its April 1985 edition of the monthly magazine. Seven members of USA for Africa were pictured on the cover: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Willie Nelson. Inside the magazine were photographs of the "We Are the World" participants working and taking breaks.[50]

"We Are the World" received worldwide radio coverage in the form of an international simultaneous broadcast later that year. Upon spinning the song on their local stations, Georgia radio disc jockeys, Bob Wolf and Don Briscar came up with the idea for a worldwide simulcast.[52] They called hundreds of radio and satellite stations asking them to participate. On the morning of April 5, 1985 (Good Friday of that year) at 10:25 am, over 8000 radio stations simultaneously broadcast the song around the world, showing support for the relief of famine in Ethiopia.[27] As the song was broadcast, hundreds of people sang along on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.[44][53] The simultaneous radio broadcast of "We Are the World" was repeated again the following Good Friday.[27]

"We Are the World" gained further promotion and coverage on May 25, 1986, when it was played during a major benefit event held throughout the US.[54][55] Hands Across America—USA for Africa's follow-up project—was an event in which millions of people formed a human chain across the US.[56] The event was held to draw attention to hunger and homelessness in the United States.[57] "We Are the World"'s co-writer, Michael Jackson, had wanted his song to be the official theme for the event. The other board members of USA for Africa outvoted the singer, and it was instead decided that a new song would be created and released for the event, titled "Hands Across America".[46] When released, the new song did not achieve the level of success that "We Are the World" did, and the decision to use it as the official theme for the event led to Jackson—who co-owned the publishing rights to "We Are the World"—resigning from the board of directors of USA for Africa.[46][58]

Humanitarian aid

A Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules  military plane. Its propellers attach to its wings, and it appears to be hovering just above a barren field. From the back of the aircraft, a package is being dropped onto the field from an open rear gangway.
A military aircraft dropping food during the 1984–85 Ethiopian famine

Four months after the release of "We Are the World", USA for Africa had taken in almost $10.8 million (equivalent to $23 million today).[59][60] The majority of the money came from record sales within the US.[59][60] Members of the public also donated money—almost $1.3 million within the same time period. In May 1985, USA for Africa officials estimated that they had sold between $45 million and $47 million worth of official merchandise around the world. Organizer Ken Kragen announced that they would not be distributing all of the money at once. Instead, he revealed that the foundation would be looking into finding a long-term solution for Africa's problems.[59] "We could go out and spend it all in one shot. Maybe we'd save some lives in the short term but it would be like putting a Band-Aid over a serious wound."[59] Kragen noted that experts had predicted that it would take at least 10 to 20 years to make a slight difference to Africa's long-term problems.[59]

In June 1985, the first USA for Africa cargo jet carrying food, medicine and clothing departed for Ethiopia and the Sudan. It stopped en route in New York, where 15,000 T-shirts were added to the cargo. Included in the supplies were high-protein biscuits, high-protein vitamins, medicine, tents, blankets and refrigeration equipment.[61] Harry Belafonte, representing the USA for Africa musicians, visited Sudan in the same month. The trip was his last stop on a four-nation tour of Africa. Tanzanian Prime Minister Salim Ahmed Salim greeted and praised Belafonte, telling him, "I personally and the people of Tanzania are moved by this tremendous example of human solidarity."[62]

One year after the release of "We Are the World", organizers noted that $44.5 million had been raised for USA for Africa's humanitarian fund. They stated that they were confident that they would reach an initial set target of $50 million (equivalent to $108 million in 2016).[63] By October 1986, it was revealed that their $50 million target had been met and exceeded; CBS Records gave USA for Africa a check for $2.5 million, drawing the total amount of money to $51.2 million.[64] USA for Africa's Hands Across America event had also raised a significant amount of money—approximately $24.5 million for the hungry in the US.[64]

Since its release, "We Are the World" has raised over $63 million (equivalent to $136 million today) for humanitarian causes.[65] Ninety percent of the money was pledged to African relief, both long and short term.[64][66] The long term initiative included efforts in birth control and food production.[66] The remaining 10 percent of funds was earmarked for domestic hunger and homeless programs in the US.[64][66] From the African fund, over 70 recovery and development projects were launched in seven African nations. Such projects included aid in agriculture, fishing, water management, manufacturing and reforestation. Training programs were also developed in the African countries of Mozambique, Senegal, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali.[64]

Elias Kifle Maraim Beyene, a survivor from Ethiopia remembers: "I won't ever forget Michael Jackson because his contribution to the song We are the World had a very significant effect on my life. Lots of people became sick and many more died (...). In 1984 Michael Jackson, along with a number of other leading musicians, made the song We Are the World to raise money for Africa. We baked a special bread from it (...). When you have been through such hard times you never forget events like this. If you speak to anyone who was in Addis Ababa at that time they will all know what Michael Bread is and I know I will remember it for the rest of my life. (...)" [67]

Notable live performances

"We Are the World" has been performed live by members of USA for Africa on several occasions both together and individually. One of the earliest such performances came in 1985, during the rock music concert Live Aid, which ended with more than 100 musicians singing the song on stage.[68][69] Harry Belafonte and Lionel Richie made surprise appearances for the live rendition of the song.[70] Michael Jackson would have joined the artists, but was "working around the clock in the studio on a project that he's made a major commitment to", according to his press agent, Norman Winter.[71]

An inaugural celebration was held for US President-elect Bill Clinton in January 1993.[72] The event was staged by Clinton's Hollywood friends at the Lincoln Memorial and drew hundreds of thousands of people.[72] Aretha Franklin, LL Cool J, Michael Bolton and Tony Bennett were among some of the musicians in attendance.[72][73] Said Jones, "I've never seen so many great performers come together with so much love and selflessness."[74] The celebration included a performance of "We Are the World", which involved Clinton, his daughter Chelsea, and his wife Hillary singing the song along with USA for Africa's Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.[72] The New York Times' Edward Rothstein commented on the event, stating, "The most enduring image may be of Mr. Clinton singing along in 'We Are the World', the first President to aspire, however futilely, to hipness."[75]

As a prelude to his song Heal the World, "We Are the World" was performed as an interlude during two of Michael Jackson's tours, the Dangerous World Tour from 1992 to 1993 and the HIStory World Tour from 1996 to 1997. Jackson planned to use the song for his This Is It comeback concerts at The O2 Arena in London from 2009 to 2010, but the shows were cancelled due to his sudden death.

Michael Jackson died in June 2009, after suffering a cardiac arrest.[76] His memorial service was held several days later on July 7, and was reported to have been viewed by more than one billion people.[77] The finale of the event featured group renditions of the Jackson anthems "We Are the World" and "Heal the World".[78] The singalong of "We Are the World" was led by Darryl Phinnessee, who had worked with Jackson since the late 1980s.[78][79] It also featured co-writer Lionel Richie and Jackson's family, including his children.[78][79] Following the performance, "We Are the World" re-entered the US charts for the first time since its 1985 release. The song debuted at number 50 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs chart.[80]

25 for Haiti

A black child stares through one eye. A hand attends to a bandage which covers his head and that has blood seeping through it. The boy's face is cut and injured. He wears a T-shirt that is sodden and dirty.
One of the hundreds of thousands of people who were injured or killed by the destructive earthquake in Haiti

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, the country's most severe earthquake in over 200 years.[81] The epicenter of the quake was just outside the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.[82] Over 230,000 civilians have been confirmed dead by the Haitian government because of the disaster and around 300,000 have been injured. Approximately 1.2 million people are homeless and it has been reported that the lack of temporary shelter may lead to the outbreak of disease.[83][84]

To raise money for earthquake victims, a new celebrity version of "We Are the World" was recorded on February 1, 2010 and released on February 12, 2010. Over 75 musicians were involved in the remake, which was recorded in the same studio as the 1985 original.[85] The new version features revised lyrics as well as a rap segment pertaining to Haiti.[85][86] Michael Jackson's younger sister Janet duets with her late brother on the track, as per a request from their mother Katherine. In the video and on the track, archive material of Michael Jackson is used from the original 1985 recording.[87]

On February 20, 2010, a non-celebrity remake, "We Are the World 25 for Haiti (YouTube Edition)", was posted to the video sharing website YouTube. Internet personality and singer-songwriter Lisa Lavie conceived and organized the Internet collaboration of 57 unsigned or independent YouTube musicians geographically distributed around the world. Lavie's 2010 YouTube version, a cover of the 1985 original, excludes the rap segment and minimizes the Auto-tune that characterizes the 2010 celebrity remake.[88] Another 2010 remake of the original is the Spanish-language "Somos El Mundo". It was written by Emilio Estefan and his wife Gloria Estefan, and produced by Emilio, Quincy Jones and Univision Communications, the company that funded the project.[89]


"We Are the World" has been recognized as a politically important song, which "affected an international focus on Africa that was simply unprecedented".[43] It has been credited with creating a climate in which musicians from around the world felt inclined to follow.[43] According to The New York Times' Stephen Holden, since the release of "We Are the World", it has been noted that movement has been made within popular music to create songs that address humanitarian concerns.[90] "We Are the World" was also influential in subverting the way music and meaning were produced, showing that musically and racially diverse musicians could work together both productively and creatively.[45] Ebony described the January 28 recording session, in which Quincy Jones brought together a multi-racial group, as being "a major moment in world music that showed we can change the world".[91] "We Are the World", along with Live Aid and Farm Aid, demonstrated that rock music had become more than entertainment, but a political and social movement.[92] Journalist Robert Palmer noted that such songs and events had the ability to reach people around the world, send them a message, and then get results.[92]

Since the release of "We Are the World", and the Band Aid single that influenced it, numerous songs have been recorded in a similar fashion, with the intent to aid disaster victims throughout the world. One such example involved a supergroup of Latin musicians billed as "Hermanos del Tercer Mundo", or "Brothers of the Third World". Among the supergroup of 62 recording artists were Julio Iglesias, José Feliciano and Sérgio Mendes. Their famine relief song was recorded in the same studio as "We Are the World". Half of the profits raised from the charity single was pledged to USA for Africa. The rest of the money was to be used for impoverished Latin American countries.[93] Another notable example is the 1989 cover of the Deep Purple song "Smoke on the Water" by a supergroup of hard rock, prog rock, and heavy metal musicians collaborating as Rock Aid Armenia to raise money for victims of the devastating 1988 Armenian earthquake.[94]

The 20th anniversary of "We Are the World" was celebrated in 2005. Radio stations around the world paid homage to USA for Africa's creation by simultaneously broadcasting the charity song. In addition to the simulcast, the milestone was marked by the release of a two-disc DVD called We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song.[95] Ken Kragen asserted that the reason behind the simulcast and DVD release was not for USA for Africa to praise themselves for doing a good job, but to "use it to do some more good [for the original charity]. That's all we care about accomplishing."[95] Harry Belafonte also commented on the 20th anniversary of the song. The entertainer acknowledged that "We Are the World" had "stood the test of time"; anyone old enough to remember it can still at least hum along.[96]


Weekly charts

Chart (1985) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[26][97] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[98] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[99] 1
Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)[100] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[101] 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[102] 1
France (SNEP)[103] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[104] 2
Ireland (IRMA)[30] 1
Italy (FIMI)[31] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[105] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[106] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[107] 1
South African Chart[108] 1
Spain (AFYVE)[109] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[110] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[111] 1
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[26] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[26][112] 1
US Billboard Country Singles Chart[26] 76
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks[112] 1
US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles[112] 1
US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks[112] 27
US Billboard Black Singles Chart[26][112] 1
US Cash Box[113] 1

Year-end charts

Chart (1985) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[114] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[115] 1
UK (Official Charts Company)[116][117] 35
US Billboard Hot 100[118] 20
US Billboard Black Singles Chart[119] 37
US Cash Box[120] 1


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[121] 3× Platinum 300,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[122] Gold 7,750[122]
France (SNEP)[123] Platinum 1,000,000*
Italy (FIMI)[124] Gold 25,000*
Japan (RIAJ)[125] 3× Platinum 300,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[126] Platinum 10,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[127] Silver 250,000^
United States (RIAA)[128] 4× Platinum 8,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also


  1. "We Are the World" would later be cited as the American response to Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas".[3]
  2. Elton John's 1997 version of "Candle in the Wind"—a tribute to Princess Diana—later claimed the status of biggest selling pop single of all time.[37]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Taraborrelli, p. 341
  2. Harden, Blaine (September 14, 1987). "Ethiopia Faces Famine Again, Requests Massive Food Relief". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Holden, Stephen (February 27, 1985). "The pop life; artists join in effort for famine relief". The New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  4. Taylor, Jonathan (March 17, 1985). "A hit with a heart: 'We Are the World' buoyed by brisk sales and curiosity". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Taraborrelli, p. 342
  6. 1 2 3 Campbell, p. 109
  7. 1 2 Campbell, p. 110
  8. Breskin, p. 2
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Breskin, p. 3
  10. Breskin, pp. 5–6
  11. 1 2 We Are the World tune brings out the best of America's 46 stars. Jet. February 18, 1985. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  12. 1 2 "Prince". CNN. December 20, 1999. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
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  14. "African relief". The Gainesville Sun. January 30, 1985. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  15. Taraborrelli, p. 343
  16. 1 2 Davis, p. 174
  17. 1 2 3 4 Breskin, p. 6
  18. 1 2 3 4 Cagle, Jess (January 24, 1992). "They Were the World". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Breskin, p. 7
  20. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie's song earns millions for charity. Jet. April 8, 1985. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  21. Braheny, p. 18
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  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Marsh, p. 518
  24. 1 2 3 Taraborrelli, p. 344
  25. 1 2 "We Are the World". Columbia Missourian. April 10, 1985.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 George, p. 41
  27. 1 2 3 4 Campbell, p. 113
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  63. "USA for Africa nears goal". St. Petersburg Times. March 10, 1986.
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  65. Clark, Cindy (July 28, 2006). "Moments of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll". USA Today. Retrieved July 21, 2009.
  66. 1 2 3 Pike, Douglas (April 28, 1985). "USA for Africa: a hunger to share". The Spokesman-Review.
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  68. Kutner, Michael (July 22, 1985). "Live Aid". The Daily Collegian. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
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  74. Archerd, Army (January 18, 1993). "Jones says 'Whoopi' as comic comes to rescue – Entertainment News, Army Archerd, Media". Variety. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
  75. Rothstein, Edward (February 14, 1993). "Vox Pop, The Sound Of Politics". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2009.
  76. "Singer Michael Jackson dead at 50-Legendary pop star had been preparing for London comeback tour". MSNBC. June 25, 2009. Retrieved June 25, 2009.
  77. Harris, Chris (July 7, 2009). "Who Is Michael Jackson Memorial Performer Shaheen Jafargholi?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  78. 1 2 3 Anderson, Kyle (July 8, 2009). "Who Sang 'We Are The World' At Michael Jackson Memorial?". MTV. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  79. 1 2 Powers, Anne (July 7, 2009). "Michael Jackson memorial: 'We Are the World,' 'Who's Lovin' You' and the final performances". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  80. Trust, Gary (July 16, 2009). "'We are the World' in charts after Jackson tribute". Reuters. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  81. "Magnitude 7.0 – Haiti Region". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  82. "Major earthquake off Haiti causes hospital to collapse". London: The Daily Telegraph. January 12, 2010. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  83. "Haiti quake death toll rises to 230,000". BBC News. February 11, 2010. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  84. McFeely, Dan (March 6, 2010). "Purdue researchers saw potential for Haitian earthquake". The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved October 19, 2010.
  85. 1 2 Duke, Alan (February 2, 2010). "Stars gather for 'We Are the World' recording". CNN. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
  86. Gunderson, Edna (February 2, 2010). "New voices unite for 'We Are the World'". USA Today. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
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  88. Josh Levs, CNN, "YouTube Singers Rock for Haiti" (March 6, 2010); Josh Levs, CNN, "YouTubers do 'We Are the World'" (March 7, 2010); Rosemary Church, CNN International, "We Are the World, part two", (March 20, 2010). Textual transcripts of programs on which the CNN videos aired, are found at "CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS" (March 6, 2010), "CNN NEWSROOM" (March 6, 2010), and "CNN SUNDAY MORNING" (March 7, 2010).
  89. Cobo, Leila, "50 Latin Stars Gather to Record 'Somos El Mundo'", Billboard.com, February 22, 2010 (downloaded May 26, 2010).
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  91. Black music. Ebony. November 2005. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
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  93. "Latin stars sing for hungry". Columbia Missourian. April 10, 1985.
  94. "'Smoke on the Water' history", Rock Aid Armenia website. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  95. 1 2 Lewis, Randy (January 28, 2005). "Stations pay tribute to 'We Are the World'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  96. Gangel, Jamie (February 5, 2005). "'We Are the World' song celebrates 20 years". MSNBC. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
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  101. "RPM Top Singles: May 4, 1985". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
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  104. "Musicline.de – USA For Africa Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
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  106. "Charts.org.nz – USA For Africa – We Are the World". Top 40 Singles.
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  114. Kent (1993). p. 437.
  115. "Top Selling Singles of 1985 - The Official New Zealand Music Chart". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  116. "Top 100 Singles". Music Week. London, England: Spotlight Publications: 10. 18 January 1986.
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  118. Nielsen Business Media, Inc (December 28, 1985). "Top Pop Singles". Billboard. 97 (52): T-21. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  119. Nielsen Business Media, Inc (December 28, 1985). "Top Black Singles". Billboard. 97 (52): T-26. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
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  121. "Canadian single certifications – USA for Africa – We Are the World". Music Canada. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  122. 1 2 "USA For Africa" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  123. "French single certifications – U.S.A. for Africa – We Are the World" (in French). InfoDisc. Retrieved October 26, 2015. Select U.S.A. FOR AFRICA and click OK
  124. "Italian single certifications – U.S.A. for Africa – We Are the World" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved October 26, 2015. Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter U.S.A. for Africa in the field Filtra. Select 2014 in the field Anno. The certification will load automatically
  125. "Japanese single certifications – USA for Africa – We are the World" (in Japanese). Recording Industry Association of Japan. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  126. "New Zealand single certifications – U.S.A. for Africa – We Are the World". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  127. "British single certifications – USA for Africa – We Are the World". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 26, 2015. Enter We Are the World in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Silver in the field By Award. Click Search
  128. "American single certifications – USA for Africa – We Are the World". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 26, 2015. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  • Braheny, John (2006). The Craft and Business of Songwriting. Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 1-58297-466-7. 
  • Breskin, David (2004). We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song booklet. Image Entertainment, Inc.
  • Campbell, Lisa (1993). Michael Jackson: The King of Pop. Branden. ISBN 0-8283-1957-X. 
  • Davis, Sharon (2006). Stevie Wonder: Rhythms of Wonder. Robson. ISBN 1-86105-965-5. 
  • Garofalo, Reebee (1992). Rockin' the Boat. South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-427-2. 
  • George, Nelson (2004). Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection booklet. Sony BMG.
  • Marsh, Dave (2004). Bruce Springsteen: Two Hearts. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-96928-X. 
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2004). The Magic and the Madness. Terra Alta, WV: Headline. ISBN 0-330-42005-4. 
Preceded by
"Tears Are Not Enough" by Northern Lights
number-one single

May 4–18, 1985
Succeeded by
"Crazy for You" by Madonna
Preceded by
"Nightshift" by Commodores
number-one single

April 20 – May 25, 1985
Succeeded by
"Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds
Preceded by
"Johnny, Johnny" by Jeanne Mas
number-one single

May 5–19, 1985
Succeeded by
Éthiopie by Chanteurs sans Frontières
Preceded by
"Shout" by Tears for Fears (dated April 5, 1985)
New Zealand
number-one single

April 19 – May 31, 1985
Succeeded by
"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears
Preceded by
"You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" by Dead or Alive
number-one single

May 5 – June 9, 1985
Succeeded by
"19" by Paul Hardcastle
Preceded by
"I Should Have Known Better" by Jim Diamond
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
April 8 – June 3, 1985
Succeeded by
"Would I Lie to You?" by Eurythmics
Preceded by
"Easy Lover" by Philip Bailey feat. Phil Collins
UK number-one single
April 20–27, 1985
Succeeded by
"Move Closer" by Phyllis Nelson
Preceded by
"One More Night" by Phil Collins
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
April 13 – May 4, 1985
Succeeded by
"Crazy for You" by Madonna
Preceded by
"Rhythm of the Night" by DeBarge
Billboard Hot Black
number-one single

May 4–11, 1985
Succeeded by
"Fresh" by Kool & the Gang
Preceded by
"One More Night" by Phil Collins
Billboard Adult Contemporary
number-one single

April 20–27, 1985
Succeeded by
"Rhythm of the Night" by DeBarge

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