Jan. 28, 2015, marks the 30th anniversary of the recording of “We Are the World,” a fundraising single that raised tens of millions for African relief and helped usher in an era of all-star recordings and concerts that benefit charity.
The musicians performed as USA for Africa, recording a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Famous names in the studio session included Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. The project was promoted by producer Quincy Jones, singer Harry Belafonte and fundraiser Ken Kragen.
“We Are the World” was inspired by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, a 1984 recording to benefit charity by another supergroup, Band Aid. That project was driven by Bob Geldof, the Irish singer-songwriter and activist. The “We are the World” single, released March 7, 1985, and related Live Aid concerts that followed in July of the same year helped spur other releases and concerts over the next several decades that benefited charity.
Many consider the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, headlined by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at Madison Square Garden in New York City, to be the first modern benefit concert.
“We Are the World” was a hit – both as a single and as a fundraising device. It is reportedly one of fewer than 30 singles that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The song, and associated merchandise, eventually raised more than $60 million for African aid, initially aimed at victims of a devastating famine on the continent in the mid-1980s.
Other music-based charity fundraisers that followed this early effort include Farm Aid (1985), “America: A Tribute to Heroes” (2001), Live 8 (2005), Live Earth (2007), “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” (2010) and the Concert for Sandy Relief (2012).