Watch 'We Are the World' participants surprise Harry Belafonte in 1985

Here's a great clip that's worth watching again, upon the death of legendary singer, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte, who died at the age of 96 on April 25, 2023. Laughing Squid describes the scene, which was captured in 1985 during the recording of the USA for Africa song, "We Are the World" which featured a plethora of famous singers and musicians. After working on the recording until almost 2 am, they:

…broke out into a spontaneous version of "Banana Boat Song (Day O)" in honor of singer Harry Belafonte. Inspired by the Band Aid supergroup song "Do They Know Christmas" collaboration of European artists, Belafonte had been one of the primary organizers of this project, which sought to raise money and awareness for the famine in Ethiopia and other African countries. Al Jarreau sang the lead, while most of the group responded with callback chorus, which only further confused a bewildered Bob Dylan who didn't know what to do.

American Songwriter describes the history of the Jamaican folk song and how it came to be one of Belafonte's biggest hits:

Though Belafonte was born in Harlem, he left the U.S. at eight years old and returned to his mother's native Jamaica. There, he learned the tradition of the call-and-response work song. Tunes like "Banana Boat (Day-O)" were meant to be started by one worker and repeated by the rest in refrains to make the work day less mundane.

"Banana Boat (Day-O)" is said to have originated around the turn of the 20th century in Jamaica. Dockworkers who loaded shipping vessels with bananas would work all through the night until the first sign of daylight appeared. When the day finally broke, the boss would come and tally their load and send them home—hence the lyrics: Daylight come and we want go home. 

Belafonte wasn't the first musician to record a version of "Banana Boat (Day-O)." Other Caribbean artists like Edric Connor and the Caribbeans and Louise Bennett took the songs to a wider audience before Belafonte, but his 1956 version was undoubtedly the most popular among mainstream audiences. 

Belafonte got a hold of the song during an appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1955. Songwriters Lord Burgess and William Attaway re-wrote some of the lyrics to "Banana Boat (Day-O)" for the show, which the audience immediately gravitated toward. 

Belafonte then recorded the rewritten version for his breakthrough album Calypso. The song and the accompanying album helped to usher in a Calypso craze in the U.S., with many artists using beats inspired by the genre in their pop tunes.

Enjoy the We Are the World participants singing the song to Belafonte—Al Jarreau does a terrific job on the lead, and you can just feel the infectious joy in the room. Ray Charles jumps up and down, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson dance around, and everyone else—including Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Anita, June, and Ruth Pointer, and many many more—enthusiastically joins in, laughing and having a great time. And yes, as Laughing Squid points out, Bob Dylan just looks somewhat confused the whole time. But Belafonte seems delighted with the entire thing—what a great way to end such a momentous recording!