Lionel Richie says these two elements were crucial in creating ‘We Are the World’

Jun 10, 2024 | Latest News | 0 comments

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Lionel Richie could barely imagine recreating the magic that happened on Jan. 28, 1985, when “We Are the World” came together.

Richie and Michael Jackson co-wrote the charity song to raise money for African famine relief, and what started as a small endeavor soon turned into a massive undertaking involving gathering 46 of the biggest music stars on earth recording together in one session.

Entertainment manager Ken Kragen enlisted the help of Kenny Rogers, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Tina Turner and more, to sing on the commercially successful pop single, which topped the music charts, earned four Grammy Awards, and raised more than $80 million in humanitarian aid.

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When asked how Richie made it happen, he credited the unlikely event to “naivety.”

“We didn’t have any distractions,” he told CBS News. “There was no Internet, there was no cellphones, there was nothing but purity of a thought, an idea and how to get it done.”

Richie remembered being paired up with Jackson to write the song, which was produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian.

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“At the beginning, there was no terror at all because we had no deadline,” he said. “Whenever you could write it, we could write it, it’s no problem.”

Lionel and Michael had writing sessions at the Jackson family home in Encino, among his plethora of animals, including his snake. 

“I’m trying to write the lyrics to this song, and I’m screaming, and he’s going, ‘He wants to play with you, Lionel,’” Richie said. “Next thing I know, Kragen calls on the phone and says, ‘Bruce is in. Dylan’s in. Dylan? You mean Bob Dylan?’

On another phone call, Kragen told Richie Ray Charles had signed up to sing, too. “All of a sudden, we went from just la la la to panic.”

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The recording happened in Los Angeles following the American Music Awards in 1985, when most of the talent would easily be in one place.

WATCH: DIRECTOR SAYS LIONEL RICHIE WAS ABLE TO TELL THE ‘WE ARE THE WORLD’ STORY FROM ‘BEGINNING TO END’

“It was just a room full of five-year-olds, and we’re all amazed that we’re there with each other, and getting used to each other,” Riche said. “I call it the first day of first grade. So you’re all in the room without your parents, and we don’t know exactly what we’re doing and Quincy’s the parent. And, he pulled it off.” 

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Richie remembered Jones having each of the musicians singing in a circle “to the class” as a way to ward off any bigger egos. 

Looking back, Richie said it was “a little intimidating” at the time.

“Now that I talk about it now, it was terrifying,” he admitted. “What am I saying? I’m trying to be ever so calm about this.”

The legacy of the song lives on through the humanitarian aid still being received in Africa. “We Are the World” also recently hit the charts once again thanks to the Netflix documentary detailing the events leading up to, “The Greatest Night in Pop.”

“We raised a lot of money,” Riche said. “We kept thinking, ‘OK, we’re gonna give away a lot of money. Hopefully we’ll raise 10.’ Once you get to 40 and 50 … whoa what the heck just happened? 

“But I remember calling Quincy on the phone and saying, ‘Did we say we were giving away half the money or all the money?’ and he said, ‘Don’t try it. Lionel, don’t try it. We’re committing all the money.’

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