By Rami Abou-Sabe
Karson, Kennedy, and Salt caught up with Lionel Richie Monday morning (Jun. 5) to talk about the singer’s storied career, upcoming tour, and what it was like writing “We Are The World” alongside Michael Jackson.
Richie is set to embark on an extensive tour alongside Mariah Carey with a stop at Boston’s TD Garden August 22. “It’s going to be an adventure. That’s why I picked her in the first place!” Richie revealed about his notoriously high-maintenance tourmate. “One thing I like about Mariah, there will not be a dull moment this entire tour!”
Reflecting on one of the most recognizable moments in pop culture history, Richie detailed the lead-up to the 1985 recording of “We Are The World.” Performed by the United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa as a benefit for famine relief, and featuring performances by Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Dianna Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Perry, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles, the star-studded single went on to become one of the best-selling records of all time.
In response to Band Aid’s 1984 “Do They Know It’s Christmas” project in the U.K., activist Harry Belafonte, and fundraiser Ken Kragen set out to organize a similar American project to benefit African famine relief.
“Harry Belafonte called me on the phone and said, ‘We have a situation. We have everyone saving people in Africa but we’re not having the greatest artists in America trying to save them. Can I get you on board?'” Richie explained. “Next thing I know, I have Michael [Jackson] and Stevie [Wonder] and Quincy [Jones].”
Scheduling difficulties caused by Wonder’s touring schedule left writing duties to Jackson and Richie, with a plan to recovene at the upcoming American Music Awards, which Richie was set to host.
“What we didn’t know was while we were writing the song, Ken Kragen and my manager were telling everybody else ‘Lionel, Michael, and Quincy are writing this song’, so everybody else wanted to be onboard,” Richie said. “So finally, we write this song and now we realize we have about 27 of the most famous artists in the world to sing it, and I’m hosting the American Music Awards that night.”
“Meanwhile, we don’t know this is going on because we’re sitting around at Michael’s house… He’s introducing me to the chimpanzee and stuff!” Richie said with a laugh, recalling Jackson’s famous chimp, Bubbles. “Bubbles kept pulling on [my] shirt. ‘I gotta get this monkey off of me,’ that’s all I remember saying. And Michael, of course, is going, ‘Isn’t he cute, Lionel?!'”
Further detailing the zoo at Jackson’s house, Richie explained that chimps were not the only animals present. “Everything is going great and here comes a snake, and the snake is crawling across the floor! And I can’t write a song with all this going on, ‘This is kinda crazy…'”
Pushing through the wild writing sessions, Jackson, Richie, and Jones got much of the tracking and vocal outlining done before being joined by the remaining artists at A&M Studios shortly after the AMA ceremony. “Right after the American Music Awards, we go over to A&M Studios, and there’s everybody there. It was so powerful,” Richie said.
Despite winning six awards the night before, Richie was so moved by the recording sessions he forgot about his big night. “At 10 O’clock the next morning I forgot I hosted the show because we were recording “We Are The World.'”
Watch the moving “We Are The World” recording up top.