We Are the World 35 years later

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The 46 vocalists who sang on We Are the World performing together Source: Rolling Stone Magazine

Dom Nelson, Writer and Editor

March 8, 2020 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of We Are the World, a star-studded song packed with 46 vocalists, many of them 80’s pop icons. The track was created in the mid-80s to help raise money for the famine in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, which had claimed the lives of over a million people up until the release of the song. There were millions of dollars in proceeds that went to humanitarian aid in Ethiopia due to the widespread popularity of the song. 

There were 46 vocalists on the track such as: Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Hall and Oates and other various superstars. The track was produced by Quincy Jones – one of the most decorated music producers in music history – and written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The super-group that was assembled to record this song had only a day to do so, so Jones hung up a sign that could be seen when walking into the studio that read “Check your egos at the door.” One would think that with the massive popularity many of the singers enjoyed, the aspect of ego would be a roadblock; however, they managed to get it done rather quickly within their 24-hour time limit. 

The donations and purchases that came in the wake of We Are the World massed quickly. Once released, the track would end up sending 63 million dollars in proceeds for aid in Ethiopia. A little over four months after We Are the World was released, the Live Aid benefit concert took place at both Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. The Live Aid concerts mustered up 127 million dollars for the Ethiopian famine relief. 

25 years later, We Are the World 25 for Haiti was released in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. This garnered over 63 million dollars for charity, very close to how much the original We Are the World made in 1985. Some other massive musical benefit events include Concert for Bangladesh (1971 at Madison Square Garden), Concerts for the People of Kampuchea (1979 in London), Farm Aid (1985 in Illinois), the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS (1992 at Wembley Stadium), the Concert for New York City (2001 at Madison Square Garden), and Live 8 (2005 in several locations around the world).

Although the Live Aid concert ultimately garnered more money, the release of We Are the World was the instigator that united the music world together. We Are the World was undeniably important and a game-changer. OHS Choir director Mr. Chris Harris said, “It was, I believe, one of the first instances of that kind of thing happening where you had all this star power giving tons of press to a cause.” Such influential artists acknowledging the famine and taking action to combat it lit the way for Live Aid and other musically fueled charity events.