Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” set the thoughts and feelings of millions following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to music. The chorus and melody came to Alan in the middle of the night several weeks after 9/11. He awoke, sang the lyrics into a recorder and wrote down parts of the chorus, then completed the lyrics and verses later that same day. Ten years later, the song is just as relevant as it was when Alan debuted it during the CMA Awards later that year.
“At the time, it was very meaningful to people and I felt really good about contributing something,” Alan said. “And then I thought it would just fade away and then we’d ease it out of the show, but now I see people out there that I feel like are waiting for that song, you know? I think it’s more than just the 9-11 connection. I mean, the real hook in it is quotes right out of the Bible anyway. And still, at night, it’s one of my biggest songs in the show. It’s hard to follow it, but I see so many that are holding up them lighters and are glad to hear it, and I think are moved by it and glad I did it.”
The song paints images of moments Americans shared following the attacks. Dusting off Bibles, noticing sunsets and weeping for those who were lost are just some of the lines in Alan’s song that people identify as their own reaction to 9/11.
“I had so many people tell me that there’s always a line or something in there that they did, whether it was go to church or pick up their Bible or go see their mother or watch a sunset,” Alan said. “I mean, just a lot of things in there people told me that they had actually done those things, so… I guess I was like everybody else, just feeling those same feelings.”
Performing a song for the first time is never easy for an artist, but when it deals with a subject like 9/11, it is that much more difficult to do. Alan had mixed emotions when he performed the song on the CMA Awards that year.
“It was a tough performance for me,” he said. “You know, just the whole idea of releasing that song was a little bit tough. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that out, but everybody convinced me that it was the thing to do… and in retrospect, I agree with that.”
Alan will help mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when he performs “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” at A Concert For Hope to be held at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on September 11. President Obama will also speak at the event.