Thirty years after the March 7, 1985 release of “We Are the World,” the all-star charity recording that raised more than $60 million to combat hunger in Africa and the U.S., producer Quincy Jones is still amazed at the project’s legacy.
In an exclusive Q&A with Yahoo Music, Jones recalls being invited to join the project by entertainment manager Ken Kragen and entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte. He also explains why his famous “Check Your Egos at the Door” sign posted at the studio’s entryway was not needed after all.
YAHOO MUSIC: When you initially took on this project, did you have any idea that you would it would involve so many major pop stars?
QUINCY JONES: That was the idea, that this would be a collective effort of the music community. I think I was chosen to produce “We Are the World” because I had produced an album for Donna Summer a couple of years earlier, and on that album was a track called “State of Independence” that needed a choir. I wanted the best choir I could get, so about a third of the artists on “We Are the World” were on that track. So I was on familiar ground. If I hadn’t worked individually with over half of these singers before, there was no way I would’ve signed on. Initially when Ken [Kragen] and Harry [Belafonte] approached me about “We Are the World,” the idea was for it to be a tour. But that would’ve never worked with all of those artists. It would’ve been the shortest tour in the history of music! [laughs]
(photo: Michael Ochs Archives)
How do you feel about the impact the cause had on bringing awareness and support to fighting the famine crisis?
It is enormously gratifying. We artists all came together to help people who needed our help. None of us had a clue that the event would ever be as big as it was; it was beyond our wildest dreams. Those 46 singers came into the session with one thing on their minds: to try and make a difference. And they did. Every artist in the studio that night was at the peak of his or her career, but it was their collective star power that made “We Are the World” a global event. If you’re not using your celebrity as a currency to bring attention to things that matter, what good is it really? “We Are the World” still stands as the most successful and unified outreach in the history of music.
What was the most magical part of the recording?
All of it, man. Every second of that night was magical. As artists, we are all just vessels for God’s whispers, and I know God walked through the studio that night, a couple of times.
Was there really a sign posted on the door that read, “Check Your Egos at the Door?” If so, did it work?
A lot has been made of the whole “Check Your Egos at the Door” sign, but it really wasn’t necessary. As I said earlier, here you had 46 of the biggest recording stars in the entire world in one room who were totally committed to what we were trying to achieve… to help people in a far-off place who were in desperate need. I don’t think that night, that experience, will ever truly be duplicated again. I know and believe in the power of music to bring people together for the betterment of mankind, and there may be no better example of this than the collective that was “We Are the World.” That’s why it resonated around the world the way it did, and still does. I guarantee you that if you travel anywhere on the planet today and start humming the first few bars of that tune, people will immediately know what song it is.