On the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we reflect on dozens of artists who came together to support victims of the attacks, and artists who were inspired to commemorate that tragic morning in song.
America: A Tribute to Heroes
The first major 9/11 benefit concert was created by the heads of Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS and aired commercial free on September 21, 2001. The program was filmed in studios in Los Angeles, New York, and London with a simulcast show in Canada. The telethon raised money for 9/11 victims and their families, especially affected New York City fire fighters and police officers.
Superstars joined forces to make the event happen. George Clooney organized celebrities to perform and staff the telephone bank. Neil Young and Eddie Vedder worked at the phone bank, taking pledges. Performers included Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Enrique Iglesias, Goo Goo Dolls, Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Eddie Vedder, Paul Simon, and Céline Dion
One of the most memorable performances of the night was Neil Young covering John Lennon’s “Imagine" for the first time in his career.
Willie Nelson closed out the telethon with “America the Beautiful” and the entire Los Angeles-based ensemble, including Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Sylvester Stallone, singing backup.
The concert was watched by an estimated 89 million viewers and raised over $230 million for United Way’s September 11 Telethon Fund.
The Concert for New York City
This second benefit concert was organized by Paul McCartney and took place at Madison Square Garden on October 20, 2001. The concert raised money for 9/11 victims and sought to honor first responders that had still been working tirelessly in the weeks since the tragedy.
US and UK acts included The Who, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, the Backstreet Boys, James Taylor, Five for Fighting, John Mellencamp, and Adam Sandler performing a well-received humorous medley. Bon Jovi, Goo Goo Dolls, Kid Rock, and Billy Joel performed at both 9/11 benefit concerts
A highlight of the night was when David Bowie fittingly performed his 1977 hit “Heroes.”
Over 60 stars signed memorabilia backstage that was later auctioned off to support the Robin Hood Foundation which seeks to alleviate poverty in New York City.
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” by Alan Jackson (2002)
Jackson spent weeks trying to write this iconic song when finally on October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4am reaching out for a digital recorder because he had the melody, opening lines, and chorus running through his head. To listen to a 2010 interview with Jackson about the song, click here.
Jackson debuted this song at the CMA’s annual award show in November 2001. The song topped the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart for five weeks. In 2002, the song won Song of the Year and Single of the Year at both the ACM’s and CMA’s. The song was nominated for the Grammy’s Song of the Year, and won the Grammy for Best Country Song.
“The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen (2002)
This tribute song became the title track of Springsteen’s 12th studio album. The dynamic hit tells the story of New York City firefighter climbing one of the towers after the hijacked planes hit, with Springsteen singing "Lost track of how far I've gone/How far I've gone, how high I've climbed/On my back's a sixty pound stone/On my shoulder a half mile line." The song features vivid imagery of the devastating attack and religious references of Mary Magdalene. The title track won Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.
“Let’s Roll” by Neil Young (2002)
Two weeks after 9/11, Neil Young was inspired by a news story about United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer. The report revealed that Beamer phoned the GTE Airfone operator to explain the passengers’ plan to overthrow the terrorists, and ended the conversation with “Are you guys ready? Okay, let’s roll,” hence the song’s title. Young’s song takes on the perspective of the passengers who overtook the hijackers on the flight.
In an interview, Young explains how he came to write the song, saying, “I thought to myself, 'Well, there's gonna be ten songs called 'Let's roll' within the next week.' So I said, 'Nah, I'm gonna let somebody else do this. I don't wanna be opportunistic about it, I'm sure there will be three or four country songs called 'Let's Roll' immediately.' Because it's just such a great image--the whole story about the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93. I think it's a legendary story that's gonna go down through the ages--it'll never be forgotten. So I was very surprised that I didn't hear any songs. And I'm thinking, 'I can hear this song in my head, nobody else has written it when I thought everybody was gonna write it.' So I just wrote it. I couldn't stop it anymore.”
On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams (2002)
The New York Philharmonic commissioned this piece shortly after 9/11 and performed it a year later in Avery Fisher Hall. The piece is a single movement and is approximately 25 minutes long, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003. The composition is scored for an orchestra, SATB chorus, children's choir, and pre-recorded tape of spoken phrases of missing persons signs that families of victims posted near Ground Zero. The New York Philharmonic’s recording of the piece won the 2005 Grammys for Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Classical Contemporary Composition.
Click here to listen to these songs and more tunes by charitable artists on our Bright Star Spotify playlist!