The special instruction Quincy Jones sent out to the 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. 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 10pm 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. 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 organise 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 organisation 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.
This article was first published by history.com.