As my radio alarm clock went off, one morning in March of 1985, I was awakened by the pure voice of a child singing the words, “We are the world. We are the children.” In my groggy state, I remember thinking to myself that I wish I had thought of that obvious idea: A children’s version of the worldwide anthem – We Are The World.
Then, as I gained consciousness, I realized that the “child” I had heard was, in fact, Michael Jackson and what I was listening to was the original recording.
I sprang out of bed and called my producer. That afternoon, on my KMGG Radio show, I shared my vision of gathering the most talented children in Los Angeles and giving them the opportunity to do their part for the charity created to benefit those starving in Ethiopia – USA For Africa.
The response was overwhelming to say the least, with hundreds of parents and kids calling and wanting to be a part of the project.
The Children of the World Project was born!
When Michael Jackson, who had penned the song with Lionel Ritchie, heard about the project he immediately gave it his blessing and even suggested his talented nieces, Brittny and Valencia Jackson, audition as well. They did and appeared on the recording
After several weeks and with the help of countless volunteers, including my dear friend and entertainment professional, Roger Neal, we had auditioned over 1500 children in various locations throughout Southern California. Every effort was made to make each child, ages 5 to 17, feel special about what they were doing and why they were auditioning. Everyone was presented a certificate and t-shirt commemorating their participation.
I contacted award-winning producer, George Duke, (who worked with Michael Jackson on his, “Off the Wall” album), and asked if he join us as producer of the recording. He not only accepted, but brought in legendary musicians, Stanley Clarke, Philip Bailey and Journey’s Steve Smith.
After my wife, Linda, and I personally called every one of the 50 who were chosen (and you can imagine their enthusiastic reactions), under the direction of musical pro Martha Woodhull, the choir then spent several weeks rehearsing their parts.
In addition to these incredibly talented voices, we added another group of child stars with the understanding that everyone would be treated equally, regardless of their name or credits. This had been the same policy adopted by the original cast of We Are The World. This group included, Drew Barrymore, Danielle Brisebois, Alyssa Milano, Danny Pintauro, Alfonso Ribeiro and others who would go on to greatness, including Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga.
Then, on April 27, 1985, one of the finest children’s choirs ever assembled walked into the Westlake Studios on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and recorded “the children’s version” of We Are The World.
Since the song was to be released as a vinyl 45, we needed a side B: I remembered hearing a touching theme for the 1979 International Year of the Child entitled, “Care For Kids” written by well-known Australian film-composer, Peter Best, who gave his eager permission to record our version. It included an intro “duet” with 7 year old Stacy Ann Ferguson and yours truly. (Stacy is now known as Fergie!)
Every note was also filmed for a video of the song. I couldn’t stop thinking about the 1400+ kids who had not made the group and suggested that part of the video include them all. It was agreed and we finished our filming at LA’s Griffith Park where every child in the world imaginable was represented by hundreds of young singers including those who where blind, deaf, or otherwise handicapped. We wanted to show that when it comes to giving, there are no barriers. Everyone can participate.
Keep in mind that our production in the studio and on location, not to mention the countless of hours of planning, would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, every need was filled by donations, equipment, and scores of industry production specialists.
It is, to this day, my proudest charitable and professional endeavor.
The following year we were notified that our version of the song had been nominated for a Grammy. Through the power of radio (before the Internet) and the effort thousands of caring, giving, and loving human beings, the words that Michael Jackson, gave to the world – “We are the one’s who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving” took on new life and meaning by The Children of the World. ~Sonny Melendrez
“I had thought that song should be sung by children.
When I finally heard children singing it on producer
George Duke’s version, I almost cried.
It’s the best version I’ve heard.”
– Michael Jackson (Moonwalker)