Ken Kragen

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Ken Kragen
Kenneth Allan Kragen

(1936-11-24)November 24, 1936
DiedDecember 14, 2021(2021-12-14) (aged 85)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Music manager
  • producer
Known for
Cathy Worthington
(m. 1978)

Kenneth Allan Kragen (November 24, 1936 – December 14, 2021) was an American music manager, television producer, author, speaker, and non-profit consultant, best known for his role in organizing the 1985 benefit record "We Are the World" and the 1986 charity event Hands Across America.

Life and career[edit]

Kenneth Allan Kragen[1] was born on November 24, 1936, the son of Billie Bercovich, a professional violinist, and Adrian Kragen, a noted tax lawyer.[2] His birthplace has been variously cited as Alameda or Berkeley, California.[3][4] He attended the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Business School.[5]

Kragen was personal manager to numerous musicians, including country music stars Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt,[6] Dottie West, and Kenny Rogers for many years. When Kragen was the executive producer of the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he met Kenny Rogers and The First Edition and became their manager. Kragen was the executive producer of their show Rollin on the River.[7]

Kragen married Cathy Worthington in 1978, and had a daughter.[8]

Charity events[edit]

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.[5] 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 several dozen artists who wished to appear on the song.[9]

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 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. The project ultimately raised $64 million for poverty relief both in Africa and the US.[5] A year later, Kragen organized another charity event, Hands Across America, a human chain across the contiguous United States that involved 6.5 million people.[5] Kragen had been the manager for musician Harry Chapin, who, before his death in 1981, was a leading anti-hunger activist.[10] Kragen, explaining his work on these benefit events, said, "I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was directing everything."[11] In 2010 Kragen founded, an annual campaign and event to benefit America's homeless, with David Mathison.[12]

Later life[edit]

Kragen 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. He recently[when?] sold a reality show to Fremantle and was in development on four other shows. He was writing a book with Tony Robbins and was producing an awards show in 2015 for the magazine Live Happy.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] He portrayed himself in the 1996 TV movie The Late Shift about the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman for The Tonight Show.[8] A dispute between Kragen and Leno's longtime manager and executive producer at The Tonight Show, Helen Kushnick, contributed to Kushnick's departure.[13][14]

Kragen received multiple awards, including the United Nations' Peace Medal, the Man of The Year from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern California, two MTV Video Awards,[8] and several Grammy nominations.[citation needed] He was a professor at UCLA.[8]

Kragen died from natural causes at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, on December 14, 2021, at the age of 85.[8]


  1. ^ "Man in the News; Continental Visionary: Kenneth Allan Kragen". The New York Times. May 26, 1986. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  2. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (March 26, 2005). "Adrian Kragen, 97, Expert on U.S. Tax Law, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  3. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (December 16, 2021). "Ken Kragen, a Force Behind 'We Are the World,' Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  4. ^ Murphy, J. Kim (December 15, 2021). "Ken Kragen, Organizer Behind 'We Are the World' and Manager for Kenny Rogers and the Bee Gees, Dies at 85". Variety. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Barnes, Mike (December 14, 2021). "Ken Kragen, Organizer of 'We Are the World' and 'Hands Across America,' Dies at 85". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  6. ^ Mitchell, Dawn (June 11, 2017). "RetroIndy: Hoosiers joined Hands Across America". IndyStar.
  7. ^ Yorke, Ritchie (February 5, 1972). "Rollin On The River's Success Creates Tv's First Prime-Time Rock Show" (PDF). Billboard: FE-13.
  8. ^ a b c d e Petski, Denise (December 14, 2021). "Ken Kragen Dies: Producer, Organizer Of "We Are The World" & "Hands Across America" Was 85". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 14, 2021.
  9. ^ Hilburn, Robert (March 25, 1985). "Behind the scene of a pop miracle". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 2, 1987), "The Pop Life", The New York Times
  11. ^ "Harry Chapin Is Gone, But Friends Carry His Song in Their Hearts", People, December 21, 1987
  12. ^ "The HomeAid Team".
  13. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (October 2, 1992). "Not "Tonight,' Helen". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  14. ^ Reed, J.D. (October 5, 1992). "Blowup in Burbank". People. Retrieved December 28, 2011.

External links[edit]