Waylon Jennings Walked Out on ‘We Are the World’ Recording Session: Here’s Why

by Clayton Edwards

Waylon Jennings was just one of the dozens of huge names tapped to record “We Are the World,” in 1985. The project featured Waylon, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and several others. It was a real who’s who of the mid-80s. However, it wasn’t just the singers on the track who were big names.”We Are the World” was an all-star production from start to finish.

Harry Belafonte came up with the idea. Quincy Jones produced it. Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson shared writing credits on the song. In short, it was a big deal, even before it broke sales records and raised millions of dollars for charity. Before the night was over, though, Waylon Jennings was out.

On January 28, 1985, just after the American Music Awards, nearly fifty of the biggest names in music walked into A&M Recording Studios in Los Angeles. They were all there to help fight famine in Ethiopia.

However, when you get that many people in a room all focused on one project, no cause is good enough to keep the friction down. Most of the stars stuck it out, but Waylon Jennings had enough and left in the early hours of the morning.

It all started when an argument broke out over a nonsense phrase that Michael Jackson had tacked on to the end of the chorus. According to “The Independent,” the stars didn’t want to sing gibberish for charity. The phrase, “sha-lum sha-lingay,” was just that.

Some didn’t like it for that reason. Bob Geldof said it sounded too much like they were mocking an African dialect. Stevie Wonder thought he found the solution when he suggested a fitting Swahili phrase. Instead of a solution, it was the tipping point for Waylon Jennings.

Waylon Jennings Walks Out

It was late and tensions were high. The suggestion of a Swahili phrase was more than enough to push Waylon Jennings over the edge. He informed the gathering of superstars that, “No good old boy sings in Swahili,” and left the session.

Some say that Waylon came back. However, he isn’t in any of the group photos from the session. He isn’t in the widely-publicized video for the song, either. He is, however, credited as being part of the chorus.

Waylon Jennings had a habit of walking out on things when someone crossed his line. It’s not that he had an inflated ego or saw himself as better than anyone else. The Texas-born outlaw just knew the value of his time and didn’t let anyone waste it.