Prince's absence from 'We Are the World' explained: Why pop legend refused to appear on the song

19 January 2024, 12:21

Prince didn't appear alongside Michael Jackson on We Are the World
Prince didn't appear alongside Michael Jackson on We Are the World. Picture: Getty/USA for Africa/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Prince, the legendary singer and songwriter, was notably absent from the 1985 charity song 'We Are the World', which featured dozens of other celebrities and raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie co-wrote a new song to raise money for African famine relief efforts. Under the name USA For Africa, 'We Are the World' was recorded by some of the biggest stars on the planet.

This included Jackson and Richie, alongside the likes of Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles among many others.

Notably absent from the recording were Madonna and Prince. While Madonna had only been famous for a couple of years at this point, Prince was an established star who was rivalling Michael Jackson for the King of Pop prize.

But why did Prince refuse to participate in this historic project?

Here are some possible reasons, based on the accounts of those who were involved or close to him.

Prince reportedly wasn’t a fan of the song

According to Rolling Stone, Prince’s refusal to be involved was seen as “selfish” by some, but he was actually open to contributing to a song, just not that one.

His protégée Wendy Melvoin revealed in the book Let’s Go Crazy that Prince hated the song and didn’t want to be around "all those muthaf*****". He felt like the song was "horrible" and he wanted to look cool, she said.

The Greatest Night in Pop | Official Trailer | Netflix

Prince wanted to do it in a separate room

Lionel Richie, one of the co-writers and curators of the song (along with Michael Jackson), told Access Hollywood that he tried to persuade Prince to join the recording session.

“I mean, I sat on the phone with him for the longest time,” Richie said. "I said, ‘Prince, we’re all down [here] waiting on you.’

"He says, Can I do it in a separate room?’". Richie said this was typical of Prince, who was known for his eccentricity and privacy.

Prince holding the mic for Quincy Jones in 1995
Prince holding the mic for Quincy Jones in 1995. Picture: Getty

“I would love to tell you that that’s different from anything else he’s ever done,” Richie continued. "That’s just Prince. Of course he’s not going to be at a group of singers at the time when we want him to show up."

Prince offered to play guitar instead of singing

Quincy Jones, the producer of the song, was not impressed by this offer. According to Rolling Stone, Jones said he didn’t "need him to f*****g play guitar!".

Prince Live In Concert in 1985
Prince Live In Concert in 1985. Picture: Getty

He wanted Prince to sing along with the rest of the stars, but Prince was not interested. Jones later said that he respected Prince’s decision and understood that he had his own way of doing things.

Prince donated money to charity quietly and often

Despite his absence from 'We Are the World', Prince was not indifferent to the plight of the people in Africa or elsewhere.

He gave his money to charity frequently and generously, but without much publicity. For example, he donated $1 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone in 2011, which impressed its CEO Geoffrey Canada.

U.S.A. For Africa - We Are the World

“I want to thank Prince — I am touched and blown away by his generosity,” Canada said. "This is unprecedented in my lifetime to see an artist come forward and invest in today’s children."

Prince had his own reasons for not appearing on 'We Are the World', which may have been misunderstood or criticized by some. However, to many of his friends and contemporaries, he was not a heartless or selfish person, but rather a unique and visionary artist who cared about the world in his own way.