"We are the World": Redemption Songs
The attacks on New York and D.C. have galvanized the music world to raise its many voices. But this isn’t the first time a studioful of stars have gathered for a benefit single. It’s become a tradition.
In 1984, after seeing a BBC film on famine in Ethiopia, Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof summoned friends like Sting, Bono, and Phil Collins to record ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which became the U.K.’s best-selling single ever and raised $14 million.
Geldof’s success (which earned him knighthood) inspired additional efforts. In 1985, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, and others sang ”We Are the World,” a tune written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones.
Jones hung a sign advising stars to check their egos at the door; a low-key Bruce Springsteen drove himself up to the L.A. studio; and during the 12-hour session, the artists exchanged compliments and autographs. The single won four Grammys and made $60 million for hunger relief in Sudan, Ethiopia, and other countries. That same year, Steven Van Zandt put together ”Sun City” with Miles Davis, Lou Reed, and others to fight apartheid in South Africa. Also in 1985, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder rerecorded ”That’s What Friends Are For” (originally on the Night Shift soundtrack) to fund AIDS research. ”Friends” was a No. 1 hit.
Four years later, KRS ONE tapped such rap stars as Chuck D, Doug E. Fresh, and Heavy D for ”Self-Destruction,” a plea for urban peace (”I never ran from the Ku Klux Klan/And I shouldn’t have to run from a black man,” rapped Kool Moe Dee).
Unfortunately, there’s no end to the need for musical philanthropy. But ”in a time of crisis, everyone wants to feel like they can do something. Musicians are no different,” says Warwick, who, in addition to organizing ”Friends,” sang on ”We Are the World” and this month’s ”We Are Family.” ”If my talent and my time will make any difference, I’ll be there.”