A Little Happier: A Very Happy Moment Featuring Harry Belafonte

I recently watched a terrific 90-minute Netflix documentary called The Greatest Night in Pop. Here’s the description: “On a January night in 1985, music’s biggest stars gathered to record ‘We Are the World.’ This documentary goes behind the scenes of the historic event.”

If you don’t know, the song “We Are the World” was a charity single recorded for USA for Africa in 1985. The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones.

It sold more than 20 million copies and is the eighth best-selling physical single of all time.

To record the song, an unbelievable group of more than 45 top musicians came together for this one-night event – to work together, even though every one of them was a huge star in their own right. Here’s a list of just some of them:

  • Stevie Wonder
  • John Oates
  • Diana Ross
  • Tina Turner
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Huey Lewis
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Sheila E.
  • Willie Nelson
  • Paul Simon
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Daryl Hall
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Bette Midler
  • Ray Charles
  • Bob Dylan
  • Al Jarreau
  • Billy Joel
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Smokey Robinson

And many others. For instance, bizarrely, Dan Akroyd was also there singing.

There was a moment that particularly stood out to me.

At the beginning of the documentary, we learn that the inspiration for doing this song came from the legendary musician, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte. After the British super-group Band Aid released the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in December 1984, to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia, Belafonte decided to try to create an American benefit single for famine relief in Africa. 

Once he started trying to organize the effort, because of the respect and admiration that everyone had for Harry Belafonte, this extraordinary group of musicians came together.

In the documentary, we see the group arriving at the studio, we hear them rehearse and sing, we watch how they’re arguing and laughing and jockeying for position. It’s a night that starts late, because it takes place after the American Music Awards ceremony that was held earlier in the evening, and proceeds into the morning. It’s obviously an intense, joyful, and draining experience for everyone.

When they’d finished the hard work of singing the chorus together, Quincy Jones, one of the central figures in this effort, addresses the group from the podium to recognize Harry Belafonte as the person who had the original idea for this effort.

They’re all clapping, then suddenly, from the side, Al Jarreau sings out, “Day-O! Day-ay-ay-O!” which, of course, is the unforgettable line from Harry Belafonte’s best-known song, “Day-O,” which is also called “The Banana Boat Song.” Then all the singers join in; they’re singing together, they’re clapping along with the beat, smiling, making up new lines to the song.

Harry Belafonte is visibly moved.

It makes me so happy to think of these great artists, reveling in their own mastery, paying tribute to the humanitarian work of a fellow musician through his signature song.

Here’s a clip of Harry Belafonte singing “Day-O.”




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