Tina Turner accomplished so much in her 50-year career that her presence on the all-star charity single “We Are the World” didn’t get a lot of attention following her death on Wednesday at age 83. But she was a featured vocalist on that high-profile single, which was recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood on Jan. 28, 1985 – right after that year’s American Music Awards.
Turner was the first female voice listeners heard on the recording by a collective of 44 singers (21 featured vocalists and 23 additional artists in the chorus) dubbed USA for Africa (short for United Support of Artists for Africa). The smash logged four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in April and May 1985. It won the Grammy for record of the year in February 1986, one year after Turner won in that marquee category for her comeback smash “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
With Turner’s death, just one month after the death of musician and activist Harry Belafonte — who was the main driving force behind “We Are the World” — 10 of the singers on the smash have passed on. The first to die was Waylon Jennings in 2002, followed by Ray Charles in 2004 and June Pointer of The Pointer Sisters in 2006.
Michael Jackson, who co-wrote the song with Lionel Richie and was featured on the recording, died in 2009, followed by Al Jarreau in 2017, James Ingram in 2019 and Kenny Rogers in 2020. Rogers was managed in his 1980s heyday by Ken Kragen, who Belafonte enlisted to bring the vision to life. Kragen died in 2021.
Anita Pointer of The Pointer Sisters died in December 2022, followed by Belafonte on April 25, and now Turner.
Jackson and Richie won Grammys for song of the year for co-writing the song, but none of the artists on the recording were awarded Grammys. The Recording Academy elected to give the record of the year prize, and another the recording won – best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal – only to the single’s producer, Quincy Jones. Jones won a third Grammy on the night as video producer of “We Are the World – The Video Event,” which won best music video, short form. (The video director, Tom Trbovich, also won in that category).
Jones and Richie are still living, as are most of the other participants. The other singers on the record included: Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, Lindsey Buckingham, Sheila E., Jeffrey Osborne, Smokey Robinson, Ruth Pointer of The Pointer Sisters and Daryl Hall and John Oates.
Also: Huey Lewis and five past or present members of his band, The News; Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler, who had co-hosted the first MTV Video Music Awards in September 1984; Bob Geldof, the driving force behind the 1984 U.K. charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” which inspired this American response; and five of Jackson’s siblings – but not Janet, who broke through with Control the following year.