MUSIC LEGEND: The reason no English star singers sang on “We Are the World” was because the project was specifically meant only for American musicians.
As you all likely know by now, the only non-North American singer who performed on “We Are the World” was chorus member Bob Geldof, the Irish musician who organized the charity performance by Band Aid, “Do They Know Its Christmas,” that directly inspired “We Are the World,” and so Geldof was at the recording of “We Are the World” to let the performers there know from his firsthand experience in Ethiopia what was going on from the tragic famine in that country.
As the story goes, then, which was repeated in the excellent new documentary, The Greatest Night In Pop, was that since Band Aid was the British charity group, then this group would be just Americans, hence the group being called USA for Africa.
Well, that’s how the STORY goes, but that’s not really what happened (although it eventually became the official position of the performance).
According to a Los Angeles Times article by Dennis Hunt when “We Are the World” first came out in 1985, the “no foreign singers” rule came about only AFTER Ken Kragen, the talent manager who put the recording together (and who was responsible for Madonna not getting an invite, but his client Kim Carnes getting an invite), first TRIED to get a number of major British stars, but couldn’t get them to agree to come over to Los Angeles to record the song live.
Kragen noted that he asked Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart and David Bowie, but they all turned him down. McCartney, though, offered to record his part separately. Kragen noted, “I was worried that if I allowed one artist to record his part somewhere else, other artists might want to do the same thing and they wouldn’t show up at the session. We didn’t want that. Part of the impact of this thing was getting all that great talent together in one session.”
So once those big names all turned him down, then Kragen retroactively decided, “Okay, this is just an American singers only group.” That, of course, then caused some drama with LATER non-American singers who wanted to join in, but Kragen had to turn them down. Kragen noted that the hardest to turn down by this new rule was his good friend, Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, “I hated to refuse her. I wrote her a long letter and explained it to her. We’ve remained friends.”
Kragen also made an exception on the complete We Are the World album, as well, which included a Canadian band (and, of course, Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd also sang in the chorus, but that was a whole other thing).
So while the no-English singer rule EVENTUALLY came about, it was not always in place, and so the legend is…
Thanks to Dennis Hunt and the late Ken Kragen for this fascinating information.
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