Broadway for Orlando's 'What the World Needs Now Is Love' Debuts on Hot 100: A History of Charting Charity Singles

Maya & Marty
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

"Broadway for Orlando" performs "What the World Needs Now Is Love" with Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, and Kenan Thompson on Maya & Marty on June 21, 2016. 

A collection of Broadway's brightest stars debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with a recording of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What the World Needs Now Is Love," released as a single to raise funds for the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 people dead and 53 more injured. The Broadway for Orlando track -- which debuts at No. 86 on the July 9-dated chart -- is the latest Hot 100 entry in a long line of charity singles issued to raise funds for various causes and victims of tragedies.

This new recording of a song originally released 52 years ago marks the fourth time that "What the World Needs Now Is Love" has charted on the Hot 100. The original by singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon debuted on the singles chart the week of May 22, 1965, and peaked at No. 7, making it DeShannon's biggest hit to that date.

The song returned to the Hot 100 exactly 45 years ago this week when Los Angeles disc jockey Tom Clay recorded a spoken-word version, paired in a medley with Dion's hit single "Abraham, Martin and John," written by Dick Holler. Released on Motown's MoWest imprint, Clay's single peaked at No. 8.

In 1998, the woman who passed on recording the Bacharach-David song in 1965, Dionne Warwick, finally brought the song to the Hot 100 in a version that teamed her with a group of hip-hop artists who took the name TheHipHopNationUnited. Their single went as high as No. 87.

This week, Broadway for Orlando's rendition enters the Hot 100 based primarily on sales. With 48,000 downloads sold in the week ending June 23, the track -- which was conceived by Broadway Records president Van Dean, SiriusXM host Seth Rudetsky and producer James Wesley -- starts at No. 13 on the Digital Songs tally. (The song was released on June 20, so it arrives on the strength of only three days of sales in its first sales frame. A physical CD single release was issued on June 26, and its sales will impact the July 16-dated charts.)

While the individual artists are not credited on the song, only a handful of the vocalists on the track have appeared on the Hot 100 before, including Carole King, Bernadette Peters, Gloria Estefan, Sara Bareilles and Idina Menzel. Many of the other well-known names have appeared on other Billboard charts, but not the Hot 100, including Wayne Brady, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Joel Grey, Sean Hayes, Judy Kuhn, Nathan Lane, Andrea Martin, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Donna Murphy, Rosie O'Donnell, Kelli O'Hara, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rosie Perez, Chita Rivera, Tommy Tune and Marissa Jaret Winokur.

A Brief Chart History of Charity Singles: The first charity single of the modern era to appear on the Hot 100 was George Harrison's "Bangla Desh," which peaked at No. 23 in 1971 and raised money for UNICEF's fund for Bangladesh refugees following a natural disaster -- a cyclone -- and a war of liberation. The next major charity single was Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas." Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats and Midge Ure of Ultravox wrote the song and organized the recording in the U.K. to fight famine in Ethiopia. The single debuted on the Hot 100 the week of Dec. 22, 1984, just over a half a year before Geldof and Ure put together Live Aid, a concert that took place in the U.K. and the U.S. on July 13, 1985, with donations also going to relieve famine in Ethiopia.

Band Aid's fund-raising song, which peaked at No. 13, led to the first charity single to top the Hot 100, "We Are the World," by USA for Africa. When singer and activist Harry Belafonte telephoned artists manager Ken Kragen, the president of the United Support of Artists for Africa foundation, with the idea of staging a concert by black performers to raise money for Africa, Kragen suggested they could generate more funds by putting together an American version of Band Aid. Belafonte would later tell Billboard, "After the success of Band Aid, and particularly Bob Geldof, it was obvious that USA for Africa was an idea whose time had come."

Kragen contacted one of his clients about the project, and Lionel Richie said yes. Kragen asked Quincy Jones to produce, and Jones enrolled Michael Jackson to take part. "Deciding to do the recording on the night of the American Music Awards, January 28, was perhaps the key decision that I made," Kragen told Billboard. "It was a perfect way to make sure that I could get the maximum number of artists to take part."

After three days of preparation, Richie and Jackson wrote "We Are the World" in two and a half hours. Released on Thursday, March 7, 1985, over 800,000 physical singles were shipped, and by the weekend they had sold out. The song debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 21 and three weeks later it was in pole position, where it remained for four weeks. Less than a year after its release, the total estimated world sales of the single and all related products had reached $44 million.

The next charity single to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 was another Bacharach song. The composer and his then-wife, Carole Bayer Sager, wrote "That's What Friends Are For" for the 1982 film Night Shift. Rod Stewart recorded the tune for the soundtrack, but his version was never considered for single release and fell into obscurity. When Bacharach reunited with Warwick after 10 years of not speaking to each other, Sager asked her husband to play the Stewart recording for her. "She thought it might make a good duet with Stevie Wonder," Sager told Billboard. The day that Wonder recorded his vocals, Bacharach and Sager had two special guests in the studio: Elizabeth Taylor and playwright Neil Simon. "I know how active she [was] in AIDS research," Sager explained. "It just hit me that this song was so poignant, and wouldn't it be incredible if we donated the proceeds to AmFar [American Foundation for AIDS Research]."

All parties involved agreed to the idea and a third vocalist was added: Gladys Knight. Then Clive Davis, president of Arista, suggested a fourth singer, Elton John. The single by Dionne & Friends entered the Hot 100 the week of Nov. 9, 1985, and 10 weeks later it was in first place, where it reigned for four weeks.

The third charity single to top the Hot 100 was "Candle in the Wind 1997" by Elton John. When Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in an automobile crash in Paris, one of her sisters invited John to sing at the funeral. Early reports were that he would perform his first hit, "Your Song," but then Elton expressed a preference for a new song. He called Bernie Taupin in Los Angeles and told him that radio stations in the U.K. were playing "Candle in the Wind" in memory of Diana. Taupin misunderstood the request and thought Elton wanted a new version of "Candle in the Wind." In two hours, he came up with new lyrics to memorialize Princess Diana. When he next spoke with Elton he realized his mistake, but they both agreed the new lyrics were an appropriate tribute.

Two days later, Elton performed the song at the funeral, the only time he has ever sung the rewritten version live. Over 2.5 billion people around the world viewed the service on television. Immediately after the funeral, Elton went into the studio with producer George Martin to record the new version of "Candle in the Wind." Advance orders topped 5 million. The single topped the Hot 100 for 14 weeks and ultimately sold over 8.8 million copies in the U.S. and a reported 33 million worldwide, making it the biggest-selling single of all time.

Other charity singles have also appeared on the Hot 100, and while they didn't reach the top, they did make an impact, including:

"Sun City," Artists United Against Apartheid, No. 38 (1985)

Steven Van Zandt and producer Arthur Baker were the forces behind "Sun City," and they enlisted some of music's biggest names to record the song and take part in a video documentary. Among the artists lending their voices to the cause: Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Ringo Starr, Pat Benatar, U2, Lou Reed, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Bobby Womack, Darlene Love, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Keith Richards, George Clinton, Herbie Hancock and Bob Dylan. Enough songs were recorded to fill an album, and over a million dollars was raised. The dismantling of apartheid in South Africa began in 1990 and concluded with free elections in 1994.

"Hands Across America," Voices of America, No. 65 (1986)

On May 25, 1986, an estimated six and a half million people held hands across America to raise money for local charities fighting hunger and homelessness. The event was conceived by Ken Kragen, one of the main organizers of USA for Africa. The song "Hands Across America," with vocals by Sandy Farina, Joe Cerisano and members of Toto, was played at 3 p.m. ET by radio stations all over the country, in support of the human chain. Among the celebrities taking part in the national hand-holding were Liza Minnelli, Yoko Ono, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson, Michael J. Fox, Don Johnson, Bob Seger, Kenny Loggins, Robin Williams, Charlene Tilton, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Chewbacca, C-3PO and President Ronald Reagan.

"Voices That Care," Voices That Care, No. 11 (1991)

David Foster, Linda Thompson and Peter Cetera wrote the song, in support of the Red Cross, as well as U.S. troops fighting in Operation Desert Storm. Vocalists included Garth Brooks, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion, Bobby Brown, Randy Travis, Michael Bolton, the Pointer Sisters and Little Richard.

"What's Going On," Artists Against AIDS, No. 27 (2001)

Marvin Gaye broke new ground with the socially conscious "What's Going On," a No. 2 hit on the Hot 100 in 1971. Some 40 years later, the song returned to the singles chart as a fundraiser to fight AIDS in Africa. Jermaine Dupri, Bono, the Neptunes and Moby were listed as producers. The vocalists included Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, Nas, Destiny's Child, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and Nona Gaye, Marvin's daughter.

"I'll Stand by You," Carrie Underwood, No. 6 (2007)

The 10th single by the Pretenders to appear on the Hot 100, "I'll Stand by You" was a No. 16 hit in 1994. Ten years later, it was covered by Girls Aloud in the U.K. as a charity single for Children in Need. In 2007, American Idol season 4 winner Carrie Underwood performed the song in a video filmed in Africa for the first edition of Idol Gives Back. Released on iTunes, the song sold over 300,000 downloads during the limited time it was available. Proceeds were donated to help children living in poverty.

"Just Stand Up!" Artists Stand Up to Cancer, No. 11 (2008)

L.A. Reid and Babyface produced the song, written by Babyface and Ronnie Walton. Performed on a TV special that aired simultaneously on ABC, CBS and NBC on Sept. 5, 2008, the vocalists included Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, Mary J. Blige, Ciara, Ashanti, Miley Cyrus, Fergie and Sheryl Crow.

"Send It On," Disney's Friends for Change, No. 20 (2009)

Played on Radio Disney with a music video airing on the Disney Channel and ABC Family, "Send It On" featured Disney's powerhouse artists: Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers. All of the proceeds were donated to environmental causes, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

"We Are the World 25: For Haiti," Artists for Haiti, No. 2 (2010)

Producer Quincy Jones returned to the same studio where "We Are the World" was recorded in 1985 for a 25th-anniversary edition, this time benefiting victims of the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. Vocalists included Jennifer Hudson, Tony Bennett, Toni Braxton, Josh Groban, Jennifer Nettles, Usher, Celine Dion, Nick Jonas, Jamie Foxx, Miley Cyrus, P!nk, Adam Levine, Lil Wayne, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Akon, T-Pain and Haitian-born Wyclef Jean. While the song was a remake of the original, a rap was added, featuring Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Kid Cudi, Swizz Beatz, Nipsey Hussle, IYAZ and Mann.

"Make a Wave," Disney's Friends for Change, No. 84 (2010)

The follow-up to "Send It On," "Make a Wave" was a duet by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas. Like its predecessor, this single was played on Radio Disney while a music video was shown on the Disney Channel and proceeds were donated to environmental charities.


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