When Was We Are The World Released? Exploring History Behind Iconic Song Amid Release Of Netflix's The Greatest Night in Pop

The documentary We Are The World: The Greatest Night in Pop explores the iconic 1985 charity single's creation, highlighting the historic recording session and its enduring impact on global charity.

Published on Jan 30, 2024  |  10:59 PM IST |  54.4K
The Greatest Night In Pop (Instagram- Lionel Richie)

The Greatest Night in Pop, the most-anticipated documentary chronicles the making of the iconic 1985 charity single We Are The World that united music's biggest stars to aid famine relief in Africa. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Bao Nguyen, the documentary offers an intimate look at the recording process, showcasing the collaborative efforts of artists like Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Bruce Springsteen. It delves into the humanitarian spirit that drove the project and its lasting impact on both the music industry and global charitable endeavors. With behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and reflections, the film captures the essence of a historic musical moment that transcended boundaries and inspired collective compassion.

When was We Are The World released?

In a poignant moment etched in history, precisely 39 years ago on January 28, 1985, an illustrious ensemble of 45 music luminaries, including Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, congregated in a Los Angeles studio to record the epochal charity single, We Are The World, whose resonant refrain became an anthem, We are the children.

As the 40th anniversary of this groundbreaking session looms, the documentary The Greatest Night in Pop will be released on Netflix on January 29. The insightful docu-film unravels the tapestry of this historic gathering. Featuring retrospective interviews with participants like Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Loggins, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, and Dionne Warwick, the film amalgamates USA for Africa video footage with audio recorded by David Breskin, who authored a Life magazine article about the session. Director Bao Nguyen and editor Nic Zimmermann ingeniously synchronized Breskin's dictaphone audio with the audio-lacking USA for Africa recording session footage.


The genesis of We Are The World traces back to the 1984 charity single Do They Know It's Christmas?, recorded by British and Irish musicians to combat famine in Ethiopia. Fueled by legendary artist and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte's vision, the documentary unveils how he approached Lionel Richie, emphasizing the need for Black stars to engage in a charity single that addressed hunger in Africa. Richie recalls Belafonte's persuasive pitch, "'We have white folks saving black folks. We don't have black folks saving black folks. We need to save our own people from hunger.' He was trying to get us, the younger group, involved in what was happening in Africa. I said, of course."

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Belafonte collaborated with prominent figures in Hollywood, such as Ken Kragen and Quincy Jones, to engage with the featured music stars. Anticipating the presence of many artists in Los Angeles for the American Music Awards hosted by Richie, the recording session was scheduled on the same date after the event. The documentary's notable revelation comes from Sheila E, known for her collaborations with Prince, revealing that her invitation was motivated by the producers' hope that Prince would join if she was present. Recounting her experience in the room, awaiting a solo opportunity, Sheila E expressed, “It was getting late, and I was looking forward to singing one of the verses but they kept asking, ‘Well, do you think you can get Prince here?’ And I’m like, wow. This is weird. and I just started feeling like I’m being used because they want Prince to show up and the longer they keep me, maybe Prince will show up.” 

Sheila E ultimately acknowledged Prince's likely absence, attributing it to his discomfort in such a high-profile setting, and described the night as "heartbreaking."

Lionel Richie on We Are The World

Lionel Richie collaborated with Michael Jackson in co-writing We Are The World, with Jackson credited for penning the iconic line, We are the world. During the intense recording session, some featured singers played a pivotal role in producing the song. For instance, Bob Dylan faced difficulties with his part and, feeling uneasy in the crowded room, sought assistance from Stevie Wonder. Wonder, sitting at the piano, sang the line in a way he believed Dylan should, imitating the indie artist's folksy voice. This collaboration proved successful, as Dylan went on to deliver a stellar performance.


We Are The World quickly became a sensation. In the March 25, 1985, issue of TIME, the magazine presented statistics indicating that the single was on track to become "the smash of the decade." Notably, Tower Records' Sunset Boulevard store in West Hollywood experienced a significant surge in sales, selling 1,000 copies in two days compared to the typical 100-125 copies per week. The magazine highlighted the song's significance in bringing together musicians from diverse factions of the industry, setting aside differences in style and temperament to promote decency.

Despite describing the song as "sappy and overextended," TIME urged readers to buy it, acknowledging its appeal to teenagers who were purchasing multiple copies at a time and encouraging others to do the same. The majority of the proceeds from We Are The World went to USA for Africa, an organization dedicated to ending poverty on the continent. Additionally, at Stevie Wonder's request, 10% of the funds were allocated to address homelessness in the United States.

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Where can I watch The Greatest Night in Pop documentary?
You can watch The Greatest Night in Pop documentary on Netflix.

Who is the 7 singer of We Are the World?
We Are The World opens with Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, and Billy Joel. Michael Jackson and Diana Ross follows and completes the first chorus together.

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