It was the year when hunger had a face and color. According to the UN, one million Ethiopians died of malnutrition in the country that suffered from agricultural floods and a long civil war, forgotten in the so-called “Horn of Africa”.
The images arrived in the world in bewildering coverings, with babies languishing in front of cameras and flies and mothers without the strength to feed them.
It was 1985, three years after Michael Jackson became the richest man in pop with the success of Thriller, two after Lionel Richie reached the top with Hello, one after Stevie Wonder won an Oscar for best song for I Just Called to Say I Love You and Cindy Lauper sell two million copies of Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
Inspired by an idea from actor Harry Belafonte, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie led the biggest mobilization in pop history, composing a song and inviting to record it in the studio 45 of the most successful American artists.
35 years ago, completed today, Michael, Lionel and more Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan , Ray Charles and other demigods stood side by side, in front of a microphone, in a power meeting not seen before or after.
While getting confirmation from the artists, Michael took over the creation. We Are The World was supposed to be created together by him, Richie and Stevie Wonder, but the story would be different. The short time would leave Wonder out of the composition, leaving the mission to Michael and Richie. They went to the Jackson home in Encino, California, and stayed there for a week looking for something that was direct and moving, easy and striking.
Richie had found two different melodies and showed them to Michael, but it was on a night when the star was alone that everything happened. In a flash that would take a few hours in the morning, he said, Michael Jackson thought of everything. Verses, melody, harmony, arrangements and percussion lines, piano, strings and chorus. From Richie, some verses would have been preserved. The next day, Michael showed his partner and saw him be impressed by his speed.
Not everything was smooth on the day of the recording, with moments repeated many times until it was perfect in the eyes of director Quincy Jones, to Michael’s impatience. Between singer Huey Lewis and singer Kim Carnes, little Cindy Lauper, then 32, needed to take the melody passed by Lewis and deliver it to Carnes and then close it in three voices. A brief moment, but it should be striking, using all the power of his drive and the brightness of his treble, and all closely followed by Michael Jackson.
It took many attempts until Michael, who sang the part before the trio, gave up waiting for Cindy to get it right and retired to the back of the studio. The climate was heavy. A producer warned that the singer’s necklaces were leaking on the recording and she, disconcerted, removed them, as shown in a video on YouTube. Lionel Richie, delicate, approached and said quietly what they should do. When they returned for another take, the part came out with precise and tuned force, making everyone in the studio applaud.
The initiative would total a total of US $ 100 million, which would be sent to the governments of African countries in situations of poverty. Even today, it is not known how much of that money survived government corruption and reached its destination.