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Ferragut: The concert that set a standard

Thirty years ago, a cultural phenomenon occurred that changed the world.

Thirty years ago, a cultural phenomenon occurred that changed the world. Quincy Jones recently said this about that night: “Here you had 46 of the biggest recording stars in the entire world in one room, to help people in a far-off place, who were in desperate need ...”
Stars like Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Steve Perry, Paul Simon, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Lindsey Buckingham, Dan Aykroyd, Willie Nelson – all at the top of their game.
Jones along with song writers, Jackson and Ritchie, invited each artist to a “stealth recording session” at Quincy’s studio hours after the American Music Awards – to assist them in recording a song to raise money for Africa’s starving children. Each of the 46 did, as requested, “check their egos at the door” to collaborate on the most successful charity single of all time. They created “We Are the World.”
The song recorded for nonprofit “USA for Africa” wasn’t the first rock star charity event. That honor goes to late Beatle George Harrison and his mentor Ravi Shankar for their benefit “Concert for Bangladesh” at Madison Square Garden in 1971. The shows were organized to raise international awareness of and fund relief efforts for refugees following the Bangladesh liberation war-related atrocities and poverty.
Several months earlier in December, British musician Bob Geldof asked his friends Phil Collins, Sting, Duran Duran, Paul Young, Boy George and other British and Irish recording artists, to record a benefit song. Band Aid recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas” for the starving in Ethiopia. It sold 3 million singles in Great Britain alone in three weeks.
But “We Are the World” catapulted “benefit rock” into the stratosphere. The caliber of each artist’s vocal contribution to this addictive seven-minute mosaic of a song made the difference. And it was unprecedented marketing of the song and video.
Thanks to the MTV, with the help of Jackson’s “Thriller” video, television became the steroid that lifted rock ’n’ roll from the mundane trenches of radio to the biggest cultural influence of all time.
Then: collaboration between the music industry and competitive radio. Jones, Jackson, Ritchie and studio executives wanted to release the highly anticipated “We Are the World” single on the same day.
The hook? That every AM and FM station in the country, regardless of format, play the song at the same time. Whether the station was All Talk, Top 40, Album Oriented, Country, Religious, Political...as you scanned the radio dial from 11 a.m. to 11:07 a.m., every one of America’s 8,700 radio stations were to play “We Are the World.” And they did.
The album sold 20 million singles, earned Grammy awards and forever changed the integration of music, politics and marketing.
Ferragut is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page. Email jferragut50@gmail.com

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