This was the theme song for the Hands Across America charity event that took place May 25, 1986. At 3 p.m. Eastern Time, millions of Americans joined hands in a line that stretched from Battery Park in New York City to the Santa Monica Pier in California, singing three songs: "We Are The World," "America The Beautiful," and this new song written specifically for the event, "Hands Across America."
The project was organized by Ken Kragen, who spearheaded the We Are The World project and ran the USA for Africa organization. Like he did with We Are The World in 1985, Kragen rallied celebrities and corporate sponsors to the cause, generating significant media attention. The event was a huge spectacle, with lots of stunts at different spots along the line: elephants going trunk-to-tail in New York City; covered wagons in Dallas; prisoners linking hands in New Jersey. Kenny Rogers performed in the desert near the Texas-New Mexico border.
There were plenty of gaps in the line, but Hands Across America was far bigger than any other hand-holding event in history, easily outdistancing the 65 miles covered by 200,000 people in West Germany for a peace demonstration in 1983.
Organizers were hoping to raise about $100 million, mostly from donations (those participating were asked to give $10), but after expenses, about $15 million made it to local charities that helped the homeless and hungry in America.
Although many famous folks participated in Hands Across America, there were no big names on the theme song, which was sung by the New Jersey Mass Choir, with lead vocals by studio singers Joe Cerisano and Sandy Farina. Members of the band Toto performed on the track, with Steve Lukather on guitar, Michael Porcaro on bass, Jeff Porcaro on drums, and David Paich on keyboards.
With no famous musicians on the song, it garnered little airplay and sold poorly, reaching only #65 on the Hot 100. Unlike "We Are The World," the song didn't drive the event, as Hands Across America was not strictly focused on music.
The song was written by Marc Blatte, John Carney and Larry Gottlieb, who were jingle writers. They also composed the Plymouth "The Pride Is Back" theme song.
The song is about coming together to help those in need, and also an ode to America. It evokes the Statue of Liberty, with the lines:
There is a lady whose smile shines upon us Saying all is welcome here
The song is very optimistic and inclusive, which was the spirit of the event. President Ronald Reagan was on board, joining hundreds of in a line that stretched through the White House. Hands Across America didn't have any real political impact, but did draw a lot of attention to the problem of domestic hunger.
Hands Across America was promoted in a Super Bowl commercial that aired during the game on January 26, 1986. Bill Cosby and Lily Tomlin, who along with Kenny Rogers and Pete Rose, were the celebrity chairmen for the event. The song wasn't recorded yet, so "We Are The World" played while Cosby and Tomlin explained what was going on:
Tomlin: On May 25, 1986, 6 million Americans will join hands to form a continuous chain 4,000 miles across our country from Los Angeles to New York. It will raise millions of dollars to fight hunger and help our kids in America.
Cosby: We need your hands. Hand to hand, person to person, neighbor to neighbor in America, for America.
Tomlin: There are millions of kids in America who go to bed hungry every night, and there are thousands more without a decent place to sleep in communities all across our country.
Cosby: That's why we're going to get together for Hands Across America. Think of what we can do with our own hands.
Tomlin: Last year we were all moved by "We Are The World," and together we raised millions for African famine relief. But now we're going to get together for America. Imagine what it will be like on May 25th: families and friends and neighbors joining together all across the country. It will be one of America's proudest moments. Hands Across America will be the biggest community event in the history of the world. It's a great American dream, but only you can make it real.
In April 1986, a video was made for this song with footage of people holding hands in various cities along the route, along with shots of children and various celebrities: Don Johnson, Michael Douglas, Kenny Rogers, Kathleen Turner, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Yoko Ono, Robin Williams and Oprah Winfrey among them.
"We Are The World" was issued as the B-side of the single.
Prince sponsored the "first mile" of the Hands Across America route, donating $13,200 to do so.