The True Story Behind Why Waylon Jennings Walked Out Of The Original 1985 “We Are The World” Recording

A group of people in a room

Waylon Jennings had a reputation for walking out when he was being pushed into doing something he didn’t agree with.

He did it at the CMA’s in 1970 when they cut his performance time down, he did it (to go use the bathroom) during a contract negotiation with his label and wound up getting exactly what he wanted, and he did it back in 1985 at the recording of “We Are the World”.

On this date in 1985, the recording took place at A&M Studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles as a charity single originally recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa. The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in an effort to raise money for the the supergroup, and featured many iconic artists, like Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles.

It also featured some of country music’s own, including Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Waylon Jennings (kind of).

More than 45 of music’s biggest names showed up to the studio to lend their voices, where there was a sign on the door that said “Please check your egos at the door.” Stevie Wonder also greeted them all there, and told the artists that if they didn’t get the song in one take, he and the only other blind man there, Ray Charles, would drive them home.

Around 10:30 PM., they all took their positions in the studio to sing the chorus.

A few hours into that process, Stevie suggested they should incorporate a few lines in Swahili for the “sha-lum sha-lin-gay” sound after Michael Jackson sang a few lines in a different language first during one of the takes, but Waylon disagreed with the idea.

According to the Independent, Waylon and a few others were against doing that (who thought it would come across as though they were mocking the language), with Ray Charles finally sounding off:

“Willi what! Willi moing-gu, my ass! It’s three o’clock in the goddamn mornin’ – I can’t even sing in English no more.”

Prior to that, Waylon reportedly walked out of the studio, saying:

“No good old boy sings in Swahili.”

Waylon might have set the conversation off, but he wasn’t alone. A number of artists also voiced their disagreement with the Swahili line, and after Waylon walked out, an argument erupted over it.

It’s also worth mentioning that Stevie Wonder invited two Ethiopian women to the studio to watch the recording, and they didn’t even speak Swahili, so with the wide variety of languages in Africa, it might’ve made sense to avoid another language.

Eventually, after a heated debate, the group agreed upon singing a line in English that read “One world, Our children”.

It’s been debated whether or not Waylon actually returned to the studio to finish the song, but his name is listed on the final credits for the chorus. He’s not featured in any of the group shots from the music video, though, nor does he have a solo line in the song.

The group finished the final version at 8AM, and the song went on to become one of the biggest hit singles of all time, selling more than 20 million copies and raising more than $63 million for famine relief in Africa.

Of course, the track was redone in 2010 after Haiti was hit with a devastating magnitude seven earthquake, and was also a big success, peaking at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

I do wish Waylon would’ve had a solo line or a more heavy feature because he had such an incredible voice, but Kenny and Willie do country music proud with their solo’s here nonetheless:

The 2010 version for Haiti:


A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock