Alan Jackson captured the hearts and feelings of millions of Americans when he wrote “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” in October of 2021, in response to the tragic September 11 terrorist attack. At the time, Jackson had no idea he was writing a song that would, quite literally, be heard around the world. Instead, the Grand Ole Opry member just put pen to paper, after his thoughts about the event kept him awake in the middle of the night.
“I woke up one morning around 4:00 AM, a few weeks afterward, and had that chorus going through my head,” Jackson previously told Yahoo! News. “The song came out of nowhere in the middle of the night — just a gift. And I got up and scribbled it down and put the melody down so I wouldn’t forget it, and then the next day I started piecing all those verses together that were the thoughts I’d had or visuals I’d had.
“It was a Sunday — I remember because, when I started writing it, my wife and girls had gone off to Sunday school, and I finished it that day,” he continued. “Like I said, that song was just a gift. I’ve never felt I could take credit for writing it. Looking back, I guess I just didn’t want to forget how I felt on that day and how I knew other people felt.”
Many artists penned songs to deal with their own heartbreak over the unfathomable tragedy, but none captured the hearts of so many people like “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”
“I think it’s more than just the 9/11 connection,” Jackson explained. “I mean, the basic message of the song is just about faith, hope, and love — right out of the Bible. And I think people like that positive feeling about it. When people think back on the days following the tragedy, I think their emotions are still stirred up by it, and they remember what everybody felt and thought at that time. People were affected in so many ways.”
Jackson debuted the song at the CMA Awards in 2021, a somber performance that is still talked more than 20 years later, and a performance that almost didn’t happen, since Jackson was hesitant to perform the song live.
“It was a tough performance for me,” Jackson later admitted to UMG Nashville. “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. But, I hadn’t really sung the song much, first of all. It was just in the studio, basically, and when I wrote it…so it’s hard to go out there and sing something new anyway, and just the topic made it nerve-wracking, too.”
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) is on Jackson’s 2002 Drive album. Find all of his music at AlanJackson.com.