A disaster continents away inspires a group of pop and rock stars to band together to try to help.
That scenario, playing out now following the devastating tsunami that swept over large parts of Asia on Dec. 26, is the same one that led to a historic gathering of musical talent 20 years ago this week.
That's when Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and 40 other high-profile pop musicians met at A&M; Studios in Hollywood to record "We Are the World," the U.S. answer to the African famine that had inspired a bevy of British artists to stage Live Aid.
To mark the wide-ranging and continuing impact of "We Are the World," Friday's 20th anniversary will be marked by a mass playing of the all-star single at noon (Eastern time) on radio stations around the world.
On Feb. 1, a two-DVD set about the making of the single and the video and the USA for Africa nonprofit group that grew out of those efforts will be released.
The purpose "in releasing the DVD and doing what we're doing with radio next Friday ... is to use it to do some more good [for the original charity]. That's all we care about accomplishing," said Ken Kragen, the veteran artist manager who helped spearhead "We Are the World."
The recording not only generated more than $63 million, but it spurred the U.S. government to take a more aggressive role in providing aid to help stem famine in Ethiopia and several other African nations.
The most fascinating part of the "We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song" DVD package for music fans may be the recording-session outtakes embedded in the documentary, providing extended, previously unreleased looks at some key performers, among them Dylan and Springsteen.
For instance, viewers can see an extra nine or 10 minutes of these artists working through their parts during rehearsals. The footage includes an unusual "coaching" session for Dylan.
"What happened there is that Bob is a very shy person," said Kragen. "He wasn't the only artist unnerved; other artists were so in awe of all the people there, it was not easy at first. So Dylan starts to do his solo, but he doesn't sound anything like Bob Dylan. At that point, Lionel [Richie] clears the studio except for [producer] Quincy Jones, Stevie, himself and Bob. One by one, they sit down at the piano and each one does his Bob Dylan impression. ... They're not teaching him the song but how to sound like Bob Dylan."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.