Updated:
Original:
Year
1985
Month Day
January 28

American Recording Artists Gather to Record 'We Are the World'

The special instruction Quincy Jones sent out to the several dozen pop stars invited to participate in the recording of “We Are the World” was this: “Check your egos at the door.” Jones was the producer of a record that would eventually go on to sell more than 7 million copies and raise more than $60 million for African famine relief. But before “We Are the World” could achieve those feats, it had to be captured on tape—no simple feat considering the number of major recording artists slated to participate. With only one chance to get the recording the way he and songwriters Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wanted it, Jones convened the marathon recording session of “We Are the World” at around 10 p.m. on the evening of January 28, 1985, immediately following the conclusion of the American Music Awards ceremony held just a few miles away.

Singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte was the initiator of the events that led to the recording of “We Are the World.” Inspired by the recent success of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”—the multimillion-selling charity record by the British-Irish collective Band Aid—Belafonte talked Richie, Jackson and Jones into helping him organize an American response under the name “USA for Africa.” Richie and Jackson wrote the song over the course of several days in January, and Belafonte’s manager, Ken Kragen, who would go on to serve as President of the USA for Africa Foundation, the nonprofit organization that managed the profits from “We Are the World,” came up with the plan to hold the session on the night of the AMA's in order to guarantee that the greatest number of big names would be able to participate.

Among the 45 stars who sang on “We Are the World” that night were huge-in-the-80s figures like Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis; Country stars like Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson; pop icons like Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner and Paul Simon; and musical giants like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. Also in the studio that night were half of the Jackson family, one  Irishman (Bob Geldof, co-organizer of Band Aid) and one party-crashing Canadian, comedian Dan Aykroyd. Egos fully in check, the group laid down the chorus and solos before sunrise on the 29th, and “We Are the World” was in the stores and on the airwaves just five weeks later.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

U.S. ends search for Pancho Villa

American forces are recalled from Mexico after nearly 11 months of fruitless searching for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who was accused of leading a bloody raid against Columbus, New Mexico. In 1914, following the resignation of Mexican leader Victoriano Huerta, Pancho ...read more

Afrikaner police admit to killing Stephen Biko

In South Africa, four apartheid-era police officers, appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, admit to the 1977 killing of Stephen Biko, a leader of the South African “Black consciousness” movement. In 1969, Biko, a medical student, founded an organization for ...read more

Challenger disaster

At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New ...read more

Germans sink American merchant ship

In the country’s first such action against American shipping interests on the high seas, the captain of a German cruiser orders the destruction of the William P. Frye, an American merchant ship. The William P. Frye, a four-masted steel barque built in Bath, Maine, in 1901 and ...read more

Cease-fire goes into effect

A cease-fire goes into effect at 8 a.m., Saigon time (midnight on January 27, Greenwich Mean Time). When the cease-fire went into effect, Saigon controlled about 75 percent of South Vietnam’s territory and 85 percent of the population. The South Vietnamese Army was well equipped ...read more

Killer couple strikes the heartland

On this day in 1958, Charles Starkweather, a 19-year-old high-school dropout from Lincoln, Nebraska, and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, kill a Lincoln businessman, his wife and their maid, as part of a murderous crime spree that began a week earlier and would ...read more

Soviets shoot down U.S. jet

The U.S. State Department angrily accuses the Soviet Union of shooting down an American jet that strayed into East German airspace. Three U.S. officers aboard the plane were killed in the incident. The Soviets responded with charges that the flight was a “gross provocation,” and ...read more

British plan to isolate New England

John Burgoyne, poet, playwright and British general, submits an ill-fated plan to the British government to isolate New England from the other colonies on this day in 1777. Burgoyne’s plan revolved around an invasion of 8,000 British troops from Canada, who would move southward ...read more