This is a deeply inspiring conversation with legendary talent manager and the co-creator of “We Are The World,” Ken Kragen. We talk about how that project came together and so many other fabulous stories on top of his new project, “Hand Around The World.” Ken has so much wisdom and practical truth on how to create and find resonance in the world. This is a Master’s Class in personal, spiritual and material success.
Kragen was personal manager to numerous musicians, including country music stars Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Dottie West and Kenny Rogers for many years. In 1985, he was instrumental in securing the talent that appeared on the fund-raising single and album We Are the World. Harry Belafonte contacted Kragen, who was then managing Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers, about putting together a concert to help raise money for African causes. Kragen doubted that a concert would make enough of a difference and suggested a charity single instead, including about a dozen artists. However, response from musicians was overwhelming, and Kragen turned down about several dozen artists who wished to appear on the song.
The group, known as USA for Africa, included Michael Jackson, Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Rogers, and many other pop music stars of the day. According to Ken Kragen, (who brought Quincy Jones on board to produce the song) a record company president suggested that he also organize an album of unreleased songs by the same group of artists and that helped the project ultimately raise $64 million for poverty relief both in Africa and the US.
A year later, Kragen organized Hands Across America, a transcontinental human chain that involved 6.5 million people. Once again that project raised millions of dollars to help hungry and homeless people around the world. Kragen had been the manager for musician Harry Chapin, who, before his death in 1981, was a leading anti-hunger activist. Kragen, explaining his work on these benefit events, said, “I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was directing everything.” In 2010 Kragen founded HomeAid.net, an annual campaign and event to benefit America’s homeless, with David Mathison.
Kragen portrayed himself in the TV movie The Late Shift about the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman for The Tonight Show. A dispute between Kragen and Leno’s longtime manager and executive producer at The Tonight Show, Helen Kushnick, contributed to Kushnick’s departure.
Kragen has continued to work actively as a consultant for several companies and non-profits including the Southern California Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; and Rallysong100, a new startup that is bringing together 100 major musical artists to raise $100 million in 100 days. He recently sold a reality show to Fremantle and is in development on four other shows. He is writing a book with Tony Robbins and produced an awards show in 2015 for the magazine Live Happy. In 1997 Kragen was a featured speaker at, and consultant to, the Interface Corporation’s annual meeting, held in Maui, which won the Global Paragon Award for strategic excellence from Meeting Professionals International.
Kragen is a public speaker, calligrapher, a photographer, a former active basketball player and an avid astronomy buff. He even built his own major observatory in California. He has been married for 36 years to actress Cathy Worthington and has a daughter Emma who is currently in graduate film school. Kragen’s first major rock and roll act was The First Edition.
He is the recipient of many awards including the United Nation’s Peace Medal, the Man of The Year from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern California, two MTV Video Awards, several Grammy nominations and dozens of others. Kragen has also been the manager of many other performers and a professor at UCLA.
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