Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote this 1985 supergroup song which sold about 20 million copies. It won four Grammy awards in 1986. People of all ages liked it. The song was sung by a racially diverse mix of artists and celebrities. It was saccharine but hummable. The proceeds went to charity: for hunger in Africa, birth control and other programs – more than $50 million bucks.
We Are The World is so very impressive on so many counts. What more could Africa want?
There are critiques of foreign aid provoked by We Are The World.
Maybe these Artists for Africa were self-serving, singing how much they care. The money raised is pocket change considering the poverty and famine in places like Ethiopia, even at the time. The support may have helped for disaster relief, but some feel longer term assistance needs to be provided and encouraged to prevent future famines. This line of critique of foreign aid is about teaching governance, which was a focus after decolonization and African independence. Still others such as Dambiso Moyo and Hernando de Soto look not to aid but to trade and capitalism and private property as more longer term solutions. And yet this can be called out for being “western” or “imperialistic.”
There are more arguments. In short, poverty alleviation is a serious and complicated business. However, the scope of We Are The World was narrower. While poverty has not decreased in many African countries since 1985, we shouldn’t expect too much from a pop song. It was a watershed moment in putting the needs of developing countries on the collective radar of the developed world, which was something probably only celebrities could have done to such a degree.
The Artists For Africa:
Singing solos: Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles
Singing in the choruses: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Mario Cipollina, Johnny Colla, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Bill Gibson, Chris Hayes,Sean Hopper, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Waylon Jennings,Bette Midler, John Oates, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Pointer, June Pointer, Ruth Pointer, Smokey Robinson