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Country Music's Response to 9/11: 21 Years of Songs of Grief and Hope


We often turn to music in times of sadness and tragedy. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, artists across all genres gathered to perform at benefit concerts and wrote songs in an attempt to reckon with the devastating day and pay tribute to those who lost their lives and the families left behind.

From Bruce Springsteen's stunning album The Rising to Neil Young's "Let's Roll," which paid tribute to the passengers on Flight 93, singer-songwriters used their art in an attempt to heal. And country music artists were no different, capturing the nation's feelings of anger and grief and outpouring of love for one another in the wake of one of its most terrible tragedies.

Below, look back at 21 years of country songs written in response to September 11.

"King of the City," Jennifer Nettles


Jennifer Nettles' "King of the City" was released shortly before Sept. 11, 2017, and was inspired by a real immigrant window washer who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I want to humanize the immigrant story as an American story, and allow people a different narrative from what they might be seeing on the news or in their communities," Nettles told Rolling Stone.


"Grand Central Station," Mary Chapin Carpenter


Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Grand Central Station," from the album Between Here and Gone, was inspired by a story she heard on the radio about a first responder at Ground Zero.

"There was this one gentleman who was an ironworker and he had been one of the first responders there at Ground Zero. He was part of the bucket brigade. They didn't have the heavy equipment -- they just had buckets...He worked there with a crew for a long time. They'd go in every day and they'd come out every day and they all felt very strongly in the first few days that they were going to find survivors. But when it became clear that that wasn't going to happen, they all felt that there were spirits there," Carpenter said in an interview. "[He said] 'We felt that it was our responsibility to bring these spirits out of this place to allow them to find their way home.' And one night after work he found himself going to Grand Central Terminal and standing on the platform as if he had brought all these spirits out with him...and then they left him and caught their trains home."

"My List," Toby Keith

Though Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" would become synonymous with country's music response to the 9/11 attacks, it wasn't the country superstar's first release to reflect on the tragedy. "My List," written by Tim James and Rand Bishop, is about a man who re-examines his priorities and puts his family first. The video for the song depicts a firefighter connecting with his family and features footage of the Sept. 11 attacks.



"Have You Forgotten," Darryl Worley

Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten"  was inspired by the country star's experience performing for American troops in Afghanistan and a conversation he had with a man who disagreed with America's response to the attacks. Following a conversation with Nashville songwriter Wynn Varble, who had recently had a similar conversation, the two men sat down and wrote "Have You Forgotten" in just 90 minutes.

"We weren't scared to say whatever we wanted to say," Worley told People. "I look back on it, and I think that's probably what wound up making it such a huge hit. We didn't try to follow anybody's formula. We said what we wanted to say and spoke our hearts."



"America Will Survive," Hank Williams Jr.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Hank Williams Jr. reworked his classic "A Country Boy Can Survive" into "America Will Survive." The singer debuted the song during the Country Freedom Concert on CMT in October of 2001 and recorded a studio version later that month.

"Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," Toby Keith


Toby Keith wrote the polarizing 2002 hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" in just 20 minutes. The song was inspired by the death of Keith's father, veteran Hubert Keith (H.K.) Covel, and 9/11. Though the country star wrote the song in 2001, he didn't make the decision to release it until after seeing the reaction from servicemen and women. Following his performance, a commander approached Keith and urged him to release the song.

"I prayed about it and discussed it with everybody for a long time, because I knew it was going to cause a storm," Keith said (quote via The Boot). "But at the end of the day, I was like, 'If it means that much to those guys, then I don't care. I'll do it.'"

"Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly," Aaron Tippin

Though Aaron Tippin wrote "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly" with Casey Beathard and Kenny Beard for his 2000 album People Like Us, the song wasn't recorded until after the September 11 tragedy. All proceeds from the song went to the Red Cross and its relief efforts for families impacted by the 9/11 attacks.


"Hole in the World," The Eagles

The Eagles' Grammy-nominated 2003 song "Hole in the World," penned by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, was written in response to the 9/11 attacks.

"There's a hole in the world tonight/ There's a cloud of fear and sorrow," the band sings. "There's a hole in the world tonight/ Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow."

"America the Beautiful," Willie Nelson & Friends

Country legend Willie Nelson delivered a gorgeous rendition of "America the Beautiful" during the 2001 benefit concert America: A Tribute to Heroes. Nelson was joined by Tom Petty, Mariah Carey, Reba McEntire, Stevie Wonder, Adam Sandler, George Clooney, and many more.


"Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson debuted his stirring "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" on the November 2001 CMA Awards. The song vocalized the anger and sorrow Americans were feeling in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. But it's also a song about hope and love for our neighbors.

"I know Jesus and I talk to God/ And I remember this from when I was young," Jackson sings. "Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us/ And the greatest is love."

"I've always felt uncomfortable about the attention this song's brought to me," Jackson said in his acceptance speech after the song was awarded Song of the Year at the 2002 ACM Awards. "And I guess I was always uncomfortable about what it was written about. I'm still angry and sad and forever changed about, you know, what happened that day. I thank God for sending the words of music down to me because I believe I was an instrument for that for whatever reason. And I don't feel like I could accept this award for this song without sharing it with and dedicating it to thousands of people, men and women and children that died, and suffered and are still suffering because of that cowardly and heartless attack on America and man kind. This is for all of them."


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