We Are The World mastermind Ken Kragen dies at 85: Music manager raised $64M for Africa

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The music world has lost a bright beacon this week.

Ken Kragen died of natural causes at age 85 at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, California on Tuesday, his family shared in a statement.

The personal manager was best known for organizing the hugely successful We Are The World song with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie as writers and Quincy Jones as a producer. The chart-topping tune helped raise $64million for aid in Africa. 

The music manager also worked with top acts of the Seventies and Eighties including the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John and Kenny Rogers.

Sad loss: The music world has lost a bright beacon this week. Ken Kragen died of natural causes at age 85 at his home in Brentwood, California on Tuesday, his family shared. Seen here in 2018 in Beverly Hills

He is also known for putting together the event Hands Across American where people held hands all the way from California to New York to help raise $34million to fight hunger and homelessness in the United States.

‘To have been married to someone of such character and loving goodness is the honor of my life,’ his wife Cathy Worthington said in a statement.

They were wed for 43 years.

‘While I am of course immensely proud of everything he has accomplished professionally, he has also been the best dad to me that I could ever ask for,’ his daughter Emma Kragen said in a statement.  

A triumph: Ken was best known for organizing the hugely successful We Are The World song with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross

A good one: The producer of the song was Quincy Jones from an idea by actor Harry Belafonte. The tune raised $64 million for aid in Africa

We Are the World was released in 1985.

It went on to raise $64million for USA For Africa and won many Grammy Awards.

The song was packed with some of the biggest vocal talents of the day and fans were amazed that so many super stars dropped everything to work together in one room.

The star included Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

It all began when Carmen Jones actor Harry Belafonte called Ken and asked him if he could help organize a concert that would generate funds to aid the needy in Africa.

Kragen said yes and phoned his famous pals.

Early days: Ken was born in Alameda, California and went on to attend University of California, Berkeley and then Harvard Business School. Seen in 1985

Early days: Ken was born in Alameda, California and went on to attend University of California, Berkeley and then Harvard Business School. Seen in 1985

Taht's entertainment! Ken also dipped his toe into television with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for CBS, which he executive produced. Here Steve Martin is seen with their brothers

Taht’s entertainment! Ken also dipped his toe into television with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for CBS, which he executive produced. Here Steve Martin is seen with their brothers

In less than one month the manager got Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to write the catchy tune as Quincy Jones served as producer.

They then reached out to many of their singer friends and the event snowballed. 

The song – which had the lyrics ‘There comes a time when we heed a certain call when the world must come together as one there are people dying – Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life’ – was a hit on the music charts for months. 

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

The following year he had another massive hit with Hands Across America. The national event involved six million people as they held hands from the East to West coasts.

The stunt raised $34 million for US residents.

A music manager first: Ken worked with country music star Trisha Yearwood

A longtime friend: And he guided the career of crooner Kenny Rogers

A music manager first: Ken worked with country music star Trisha Yearwood, left, as well as crooner Kenny Rogers

A siren still: Olivia Newton-John, seen at the 2018 G'Day USA Black Tie Gala at InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, was one of his clients

A siren still: Olivia Newton-John, seen at the 2018 G’Day USA Black Tie Gala at InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, was one of his clients

The biggest thing in disco: The supergroup Bee Gees also worked with Ken; seen in 1977

The biggest thing in disco: The supergroup Bee Gees also worked with Ken; seen in 1977

Ken was born in Alameda, California and went on to attend University of California, Berkeley and then Harvard Business School.

He made a career for himself as a personal music manager and soon worked with top talent such as country music stars Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Dottie West, and Kenny Rogers.

He then turned his eye to disco acts the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John.

Smart moves: Kragen moved into public speaker toward the end of his career and even headed classes at universities like USC and Harvard Business School. Ken was on the charity board for Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation and Community in School. Seen in 2012

Smart moves: Kragen moved into public speaker toward the end of his career and even headed classes at universities like USC and Harvard Business School. Ken was on the charity board for Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and Community in School. Seen in 2012

Ken also dipped his toe into television with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for CBS, which he executive produced.

And later he worked with Kenny Rogers and The First Edition on their show Rollin On The River.

And at one point Ken worked with actor Burt Reynolds or Smoky And The Bandit fame.    

Kragen moved into public speaker toward the end of his career and even headed classes at universities like USC and Harvard Business School.

Ken was on the charity board for Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and Community in School.

WHAT IS WE ARE THE WORLD? 

We Are the World was released in 1985.

It was inspired by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? project in the UK. 

Ken organized the hugely successful We Are The World song with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie as writers and Quincy Jones as a producer.

The chart-topping tune helped raise $64million for aid in Africa.  

It went on to raise $64million for USA For Africa and won many Grammy Awards.

We Are the World was released in 1985. It was inspired by Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? project in the UK

We Are the World was released in 1985. It was inspired by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? project in the UK

Ken organized the hugely successful We Are The World song with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie as writers and Quincy Jones as a producer

Ken organized the hugely successful We Are The World song with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie as writers and Quincy Jones as a producer

The song was packed with some of the biggest vocal talents of the day and fans were amazed that so many super stars dropped everything to work together in one room.

The star included Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

It all began when Carmen Jones actor Harry Belafonte called Ken and asked him if he could help organize a concert that would generate funds to aid the needy in Africa.

The chart-topping tune helped raise $64million for aid in Africa. Here Cyndi Lauper is pictured

The chart-topping tune helped raise $64million for aid in Africa. Here Cyndi Lauper is pictured

The legendary Dionne Warwick is singing with headphones next to Willie Nelson

The legendary Dionne Warwick is singing with headphones next to Willie Nelson

Lionel Richie gives a thumb's up as he sings next to Dionne

Lionel Richie gives a thumb’s up as he sings next to Dionne

Billy Joel looks on as Tina Turner belts out the song in front of her microphone

Billy Joel looks on as Tina Turner belts out the song in front of her microphone

Kragen said yes and phoned his famous pals.

In less than one month the manager got Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to write the catchy tune as Quincy Jones served as producer.

They then reached out to many of their singer friends and the event snowballed. 

The song – which had the lyrics ‘There comes a time when we heed a certain call when the world must come together as one there are people dying – Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life’ – was a hit on the music charts for months. 

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

 

 



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