January 28, 2020
Participants, family and fans gathered Jan. 28 at Studio “A” at Henson Studios (formerly A&M Records and the original Charlie Chaplin Studios) on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, Calif., to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the recording of the song “We Are the World,” which over the years has raised millions to feed the hungry.
“We Are the World” producer Ken Kragen, Gina Belafonte (daughter of “We Are the World” organizer/artist Harry Belafonte), singer Dionne Warwick, and USA for Africa board president Lloyd Greig unveiled a commemorative plaque to be placed at the studio. The plaque reads, “On January 28, 1985, 45 superstar recording artists checked their egos at this door and joined together as one to record ‘We Are the World.’ 35 years later, the people’s anthem they created has raised over $100 million for USA for Africa. The song still lends a helping hand.”
As part of the celebration, Stadium Media has just released a documentary We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song to digital outlets, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNow, Google Play, Vudu and TubiTV. It is also available on InDemand on Cox and Comcast.
At the event, participants shared stories of the genesis and experience of creating the song. It was a call from legendary performer Harry Belafonte, who wanted to raise money to fight hunger in Africa, that got Kragen involved. In addition to lining up the performers, Kragen enlisted Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson to write “We Are the World” and Quincy Jones — who famously put up a sign at the studio to “check your egos at the door” — to produce.
“It seemed impossible,” Kragen recalled at the event. “We did that in five weeks. We put this whole thing together in five weeks from the day I got the call from Harry Belafonte. One of my philosophies is that it’s easier to accomplish the impossible than the ordinary, and the reason is people pay attention when you’re trying to do the impossible.”
It also helped that the recording was done the night of the American Music Awards.
“It got all the artists in town and we didn’t have to worry about getting them here, and they all came in their limos from the American Music Awards, one after the other, and I was standing out here welcoming people,” Kragen said. “A guy pushed his way through the crowd in a leather jacket and he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I got a great parking place across the street on La Brea.’ It was Bruce Springsteen.”
Dionne Warwick, who also drove herself to the recording studio, recalled, “I had never seen as many limousines lining La Brea.”
“Quincy Jones wanted Dionne Warwick to be part of this song — and I specifically remember him telling me this — because she was such a great singer,” Kragen recalled. “He said, ‘We’ve got to have Dionne. She has just a fabulous voice.’”
The limos and crowd of luminaries weren’t the only surprises for Warwick that night.
She recalled, “Quincy said, ‘Guess who your duet partner’s going to be?’ I said, ‘Who?’ And he said, ‘It’s Willie Nelson’ — which was quite a surprise to me, but it was a wonderful duet as it turned out.”
Gina Belafonte also related a funny anecdote her father told her about the night: “Stevie Wonder needed to find the restroom, and when he needed to find the restroom, I believe he asked Ray Charles. And I believe it was Ray Charles that guided him to the restroom.”
On a more serious note, she said her father, who could not attend the plaque unveiling, “finds great reward in what USA for Africa has been able to do with the proceeds” from the recording of that song 35 years ago.