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'We Are the World' Re-Issue Set for 20th Birthday

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LOS ANGELES -- "We Are the World," the pioneering all-star charity anthem that generated millions of dollars for African famine relief 20 years ago, is returning to the world stage -- this time to raise money for AIDS and tsunami victims.

The group USA For Africa will reissue the Grammy-winning single recorded by more than 40 superstars -- among them Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Michael Jackson (news) and Stevie Wonder -- on Feb. 1 as part of a two-disc DVD set.

In addition, hundreds of radio stations around the globe are planning to broadcast the song on Friday at noon Eastern time to mark the 20th anniversary of the recording, organizers said on Monday.

The original single and accompanying album have raised more than $60 million since their 1985 release to help combat hunger in Africa. Proceeds from the upcoming reissue will again be earmarked for famine relief, as well as for AIDS treatment and prevention, plus disaster recovery in areas of East Africa devastated by the recent tsunamis, organizers said.

The double-disc set features four hours of footage from the landmark "We Are the World" recording session, which began late on Jan. 28, 1985 and lasted 12 hours.

Inspired in part by the success of Bob Geldof's Band Aid project, which produced the British charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas" in 1984, "We Are the World" was the brainchild of American singer-activist Harry Belafonte.

After seeing news footage of Ethiopian famine victims, Belafonte contacted leading entertainment manager Ken Kragen for help enlisting stars to record a song whose royalties would go exclusively to relieve Africa's food crisis. There were no artist or agent fees.

The occasion brought together 45 of the biggest names in the U.S. music business to perform a seven-minute-plus ballad composed by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson.

While participants were all admonished to "check their egos at the door," the recording session at A&M Studios in Hollywood was not without its tensions.

ROCKERS VS. NON-ROCKERS

A manager for one of the artists complained that "the rockers don't care for the song that much and they don't want to stand next to the non-rockers," co-organizer Kragen recounted. "They felt it was going to hurt their credibility."

But when Springsteen refused to join the dissidents' revolt, "the whole mutiny fell apart," Kragen said, recalling that the response of the Boss was: "I'm here to save lives and feed people, and I'm staying."

Otherwise, Kragen said, "Everybody was blown away by Ray Charles. And everybody was impressed that Bob Dylan was there, except Bob Dylan, who was scared to death that all these people were there."

Kragen said session producer Quincy Jones, Richie and Stevie Wonder all joined in cajoling a self-conscious Dylan into singing in his rough-hewn voice.

The single, released on March 7, 1985, sold 800,000 copies its first week and shot to No. 1 in three weeks, making it the fastest-rising U.S. chart-topper at the time. It went on to win Grammys for song of the year and record of the year.

The effort also helped pave the way for a string of superstar charity projects that followed, including Farm Aid and Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For."

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