January 21, 2022

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Ken Kragen, a Drive Behind ‘We Are the World,’ Dies at 85

Ken Kragen, a Force Behind ‘We Are the World,’ Dies at 85

The entertainer and humanitarian Harry Belafonte was so impressed by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the file launched by an all-star lineup of British and Irish musicians in late 1984 to boost cash for famine reduction in Africa, that he needed to do one thing related with American musicians. However Mr. Belafonte, in his late 50s on the time, knew he needed to recruit present stars to drag off the thought.

“I wanted a youthful era of artists,” he wrote in his memoir, “My Music” (2011), “those on the high of the charts proper now: Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers and Cyndi Lauper. After I regarded on the administration of most of those artists, I stored seeing the identical identify: Ken Kragen.”

Mr. Kragen, after some persuading, latched onto Mr. Belafonte’s imaginative and prescient and have become a pivotal behind-the-scenes pressure in creating “We Are the World,” the collaborative track recorded by a dizzying array of stars (together with Mr. Belafonte) and launched in March 1985. The track turned a worldwide hit and, together with an album of the identical identify, raised hundreds of thousands of {dollars} for starvation reduction in Africa and elsewhere.

“When Belafonte referred to as me, the primary name I made was to Kenny Rogers,” who was one in all his shoppers, Mr. Kragen recalled in a 1994 interview with Larry King on CNN. “Then I referred to as Lionel Richie. Then I referred to as Quincy Jones. Lionel referred to as Stevie Marvel. Inside 24 hours, we had six or seven of the largest names within the business.”

Quickly “six or seven” had snowballed into dozens, with Paul Simon, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Stevie Marvel and Diana Ross amongst them. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Richie wrote the track; Mr. Jones performed the recording session in January 1985, a gathering that turned the stuff of music legend.

Mr. Kragen, who went on to arrange or assist arrange different formidable fund-raising initiatives, together with Palms Throughout America in 1986, died on Tuesday at his residence in Los Angeles. He was 85.

His daughter, Emma Kragen, confirmed the loss of life. No trigger was specified.

As Mr. Kragen typically advised the story later, his purpose at first on the “We Are the World” challenge was to recruit two new stars a day. However quickly recruiting wasn’t his downside.

“Lionel Richie had this line — he says, ‘You’re who you hug,’” he advised Mr. King, “and the factor is that everyone needed to hug someone who was hipper or someone who was extra profitable. So the day that I bought Bruce Springsteen, the floodgates opened, as a result of he was the most popular artist in America.”

At that time, Mr. Kragen went from dialing the cellphone to answering it — loads.

“I began to get calls from everyone,” he advised The Los Angeles Occasions in 1985, simply after the recording session. “I attempted onerous to chop it off at 28 — to this present day I don’t know the way it bought to be 46. Nonetheless, we turned down virtually 50 artists.”

Mr. Kragen was the founding president of USA for Africa, the muse set as much as administer the help cash raised by “We Are the World,” which continues at this time. In keeping with its web site, it has raised greater than $100 million to alleviate poverty.

Kenneth Allan Kragen was born on Nov. 24, 1936, in Berkeley, Calif. His father, Adrian, was a lawyer who later taught legislation on the College of California, Berkeley, and his mom, Billie, was a violinist.

Whereas learning engineering at Berkeley, Mr. Kragen started frequenting native nightclubs and shortly turned pleasant with the Kingston Trio, a fledgling group that always performed on the Purple Onion in San Francisco. He started reserving the group at faculties, and when he graduated in 1958 he was requested to handle them; as an alternative he went to Harvard’s graduate faculty of enterprise. Earlier than beginning there, he took a visit to Europe together with his dad and mom; when he got here residence, a brand new group was getting plenty of buzz nationally: the Kingston Trio.

“I simply needed to die,” Mr. Kragen told The New York Times in 1986. “I assumed I’d blown the possibility of a lifetime.”

However as soon as he earned his graduate diploma in 1960, he discovered new alternatives as a expertise supervisor and promoter. He managed the folks group the Limeliters after which, in 1964, picked up the Smothers Brothers. He and his enterprise companion on the time, Kenneth Fritz, had been govt producers of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which throughout its three-season run, from 1967 to 1969, was one of the talked-about reveals on tv due to its battles with censors.

In 1975 he went to work for Jerry Weintraub, a expertise supervisor with a formidable roster that included John Denver, Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues. (Mr. Weintraub would quickly grow to be a famous movie and tv producer.) In 1979 Mr. Kragen began his personal firm. His shoppers included the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John and Trisha Yearwood.

Mr. Kragen produced tv films that includes Mr. Rogers, in addition to TV specials for the singer Linda Eder and others. His fund-raising efforts included Palms Throughout America, whose purpose was to create a series of individuals holding fingers that stretched from coast to coast. The occasion passed off in Could 1986. The coast-to-coast chain didn’t fairly materialize — there have been gaps in varied locations — and although the occasion raised hundreds of thousands of {dollars} for starvation and homelessness, it fell in need of its $50 million purpose. However some 5 million folks participated, together with President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Kragen married the actress Cathy Worthington in 1978. Along with her and his daughter, he’s survived by a sister, Robin Merritt.

In 2019 Buzzfeed asked Mr. Kragen if he might envision a reprise of Palms Throughout America. He couldn’t. Folks, he stated, could be too busy documenting their participation with selfies to truly maintain fingers.

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