Times Pop Music Critic

USA for Africa’s Benefit Recording Garners Four Awards, Including Best Record; Phil Collins Wins in Album, Pop Vocal and Producer Categories

“We Are the World” was such an obvious choice for record of the year in Tuesday night’s 28th annual Grammy Awards ceremony that it seemed almost anti-climatic when the envelope was actually opened.

Still, it was a supreme moment in pop history when co-writers Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie stepped on stage to a standing ovation to accept the Grammy on behalf of USA for Africa, the organization that sponsored the benefit recording project.

Quincy Jones, who produced the record and joined Jackson and Richie at the podium, thanked “the generation that changed ‘I, Me, My’ to ‘We, You, Us.’ ”


In accepting a Grammy earlier in the evening for best song, Jackson said, “First, I’d like to thank God.” After pausing briefly, he added, “I’d like to thank (Him) for picking Lionel and myself to write ‘We Are the World.”

“We Are the World,” which also won in two additional categories, suffered its only loss in the album competition to Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required.” This wasn’t a surprise because the “We Are the World” album--which included tracks donated by various artists--was a far less distinguished work than the single.

The best-record victory made “We Are the World” the first charity-oriented recording to win in a top Grammy category since the “Concert for Bangladesh” was named best LP in 1973.

And “We Are the World” represented a far more dramatic chapter in rock history than the earlier effort.


It was almost 13 months to the day that Jackson and Richie were joined in a Hollywood studio--about a dozen miles from the Shrine--by an unprecedented lineup of pop and rock stars to record the song that triggered worldwide concern for famine victims in Africa.

But so much has happened since that dramatic night at A&M; Studios that it seemed as if years had passed. The irony of the “We Are the World” success is that the single was virtually ignored in a year-end poll of the nation’s 200 leading pop and rock critics.

Maybe the record seemed to be too simple and sweet a gesture for writers who prefer more biting and sophisticated commentary. But part of pop and rock’s most valuable asset has been its ability to inspire.

As much as any event in pop cultural history, “We Are the World” brought together, even if for a few magic moments, the normally fragmented pop audience in a way that almost seemed impossible in this cynical age.

While Jackson and Richie stood on stage with Jones and other emmbers of the USA for Africa musical team, their song played once more over the sound system.

It was a touching reminder of just how far a single song can take us.

After “We Are the World,” the closest thing to a major sweep was provided by Phil Collins--who was honored for best album, male pop vocal and (with Hugh Padgham) best pop producer.

Other key winners included Sade (new artist); Whitney Houston (female pop vocal); Tina Turner, Don Henley and Dire Straits (rock vocals); Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and the Commodores (R&B; vocals); Cleo Laine (female jazz vocal); Wynton Marsalis (solo and jazz instrumentals); Rosanne Cash, Ronnie Milsap and the Judds (country vocals).


Manhattan Transfer’s “Vocalese” album figured in three awards. Jon Hendricks and Bobby McFerrin won best male jazz vocal performance honors for their contributions to “Another Night in Tunisia,” a track from “Vocalese.” The Transfer itself was cited for best jazz vocal by a group, while Cheryl Bentyne and McFerrin were named best vocal arrangers for their work on “Tunisia.”

Jan Hammer picked up two Grammys (pop instrumental performance and composition) for his “Miami Vice Theme,” while the Winans’ “Tomorrow” album also registered two Grammy wins. Marvin Winans was judged best male soul gospel singer, while the Winans won best soul gospel group vocal.

“Beverly Hills Cop” was judged best sound-track album, while “West Side Story” was declared top cast show LP.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductor Sir Georg Solti, who already held a record 23 Grammys, won another by being honored in the best opera recording category.

In addition, Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber won his first classical Grammy for best contemporary composition and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Robert Shaw conducting, captured four awards, the most by any classical group.

The “We Are the World” single, which featured such singers as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross, both shaped and defined the Pop-as-Benefactor syndrome that was a dominant theme of pop music in 1985.

While project catalysts Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen (manager of Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers), were inspired by London-based rocker Bob Geldof’s actions in organizing a 1984 British charity recording called “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” the “World” single and album stirred the pop imagination and conscience even more dramatically.

Indeed, it was the success of “We Are the World"--which raised more than $40 million for famine relief--that enabled Geldof to mobilize the forces required to put on the landmark Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia last summer.


The spirit of “We Are the World” and Live Aid was also picked up by a variety of other groups, including the April 9 “Cantare, Cantaras” recording, which was aimed at raising funds for health and nutrition concerns in South and Central American countries, and last fall’s Farm Aid concert, which focused attention on financially-troubled U.S. farmers.

The session that produced “We Are the World” included some of the most honored performers in all of pop--all told, they have received more than 110 Grammys in past ceremonies.

Sixteen belonged to Quincy Jones--the second-highest number of awards by a non-classical artist. The award Tuesday as producer of the single left Jones only three shy of pop front-runner Henry Mancini.

One of the common complaints against the Grammys over the years is that the voters recognize commercial, “safe” acts and ignore rock’s challenging new forces. Among those who were woefully under-acknowledged: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Spector, the Who, David Bowie, Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman and Neil Young.

But the 6,000 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences have a way of making up for the oversights--the lifetime achievement awards. The Grammy voters may have missed honoring the Rolling Stones in the years when that English band’s music really mattered, but the academy passed out the lifetime achievement award to the Stones on Tuesday.

Eric Clapton presented the award in London in a ceremony shown live on the U.S. telecast via satellite. Clarinetist-bandleader Benny Goodman and classical guitarist Andre Segovia were also honored with lifetime achievement awards. Past recipients include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis Presley.

In addition, George and Ira Gershwin were honored Tuesday with a Trustees award. Barbra Streisand made the presentation to Mrs. Ira Gershwin.

Kenny Rogers hosted the ceremony.