Written and published weekly by Cheryl Johnson, the Musician's Helper
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Hope everyone is having a great week. Fall is around the corner and cooler weather is moving into our region. I was on Facebook a little bit ago and ran across an old song that one of my friends had shared. It’s not a religious song, but it is one with a great message. It’s simply titled, “We Are The World”.
“We Are The World” is a song that was actually a single released for charity and sung 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”. The single sold more than 20 million copies and is one of the less than 30 all time singles to have sold at least 10 million copies worldwide.
The inspiration for the project came from the UK when they released Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The idea actually came from actor and activist Harry Belafonte. He and fundraiser Ken Kragen were brought the vision to life. Several musicians were contacted before the task was assigned to Michael and Lionel to write the song. They completed the writing of the song seven weeks after the UK’s release and just one night before the first recording session on January 21, 1985. This historic event brought together some of the most famous recording artists at that time.
The song was released on March 7, 1985, as the only single from the same titled album. It topped the charts throughout the world and became the fastest selling American pop single in history. “We Are The World” became a worldwide commercial success and was the first single to ever be certified as multi-platinum. It also received a Quadruple Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. It received three Grammy Awards, one American Music Award and a People’s Choice Award. With promotion and merchandise, this song raised over $63 million for aid in Africa and the US. That is equivalent to $136 million today. Needless to say the song was a major hit and actually seemed to bring our nation together, united for a cause.
Now a bit of history about the writing of the song itself. Harry Belafonte had tried for a while to have a song recorded by the top artists in the music business. His plan was to have the proceeds donated to the new organization USA for Africa. They would feed and help the starving people in Africa and specifically Ethiopia, where one million people had during the famine of 1983 - 1985. Belafonte’s plan also included setting money aside to help end hunger in our own country. The intended writers of the song were Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers. Belafonte also enlisted the help of Stevie Wonder to add more fame to the project. Quincy Jones was drafted to co-produce and Richie phones Michael Jackson, who had just released “Thriller”. Jackson revealed to Richie that he not only wanted to sing, but help write the song as well. That worked out because Wonder was very busy and had little time for writing.
After the lyrics and music were written, then came the recording. The final night of the recording was January 28, 1985. Michael Jackson arrived early to record his vocals and soon the artists began gathering in the studio. One report stated that Prince was invited but refused to come. He did, however, donate a single for the album. In all, 45 of America’s top musicians participated in the recording and another 50 had to be turned away.
The performers took their places around 10:30 and the recording began. Hours passed before Wonder suggested a line be sung in Swahili. At that point, Waylon Jennings left the studio. A heated debate followed. After it was agreed to sing in English, Jennings returned and is included in the credits.
“We Are The World” is sung in first person point of view. It was written that way so the audience could “internalize” the message. It was an appeal to human compassion to aid those in need. The song opens with the first verse and singing it are Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner and Billy Joel. Michael Jackson and Diana Ross sing the first chorus together. Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson and Al Jarreau sing the second verse, before Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry and Daryl Hall do the second chorus. Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper and Kim Carnes follow with the bridge. This structuring was intended to create a sense of continuous surprise and emotional buildup. The song concludes with Bob Dylan and Ray Charles singing a full chorus, Wonder and Springsteen duetting and ad libs from Charles and Ingram.
On March 8, 1985, “We Are The World” was released as a single. It was the only single released from the album. The single debuted at number 21 on the top 100 and in four weeks had climbed to the number one spot. 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. The initial shipment of 800,000 records sold out in three days of the release. The song was popular for both young and old. It also claimed many awards as well as did the video.
Okay, it’s time for my take on the song. What I see when I watch the video, is a group of people donating the talent and time to help others. This single raised $10.8 million in just four months after the release. Yes, they are stars of the music industry, and maybe we can’t raise millions of dollars for famined nations or the homeless, but one single act of kindness change change the world for one person. If one person at a time is all we can hope to reach, then let’s do our part to reach someone. Sometimes, it’s not the money. Maybe a smile and an encouraging word can make a difference in someone’s world. As the song says, it’s a choice we’re making. Let’s make the right choice.
Again, thank you for reading. Below you will find some items of interest. Click on the images and it will take you to Amazon.com where you can purchase them, and remember...B# and God Bless!
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