Country Music and 9/11

As with any national tragedy, country music provided artists a powerful vehicle to respond. A well-crafted tune can reveal deep feelings while building community spirit.

This lesson seeks to introduce students to the various ways country artists reacted to 9/11 through three country songs. Students will analyze songs such as Alan Jackson’s reflective “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, as well as Aaron Tippin’s stirring “This Ain’t No Rag It’s a Flag”.

Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue”

Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue is a country song written after 9/11 as a way of remembering those lost during terrorist attacks and also those killed fighting in WWI and WWII. The song serves as both an anthem for American pride as well as paying homage to those who sacrificed their lives defending our freedom – its title refers to an important symbol – our flag.

Keith wrote “Bring It On Home” within 20 minutes after 9/11. Although initially intended only for USO tours, after performing it for Pentagon brass he decided to release it as a single. Keith was amazed at its powerful impact – becoming one of his most acclaimed songs and used even as a rally cry in Iraq!

The music of this song is intense and emotional, making it ideal for patriotic songs. Additionally, its lyrics reflect America’s battle and hope of victory – such as: “This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/And he’ll let you know justice will be served/Courtesy of Red White and Blue”.

Keith’s song was an enormously popular choice that helped unite the country during a time of distress. While some critics may have dismissed its effectiveness as “dog whistling”, its intent proved extremely successful in doing just that.

Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”

Alan Jackson’s hit, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” became one of country music’s defining moments and an opportunity for Americans to reflect in the aftermath of September 11’s terrorist attacks. Debuted only two months post tragedy, this instant hit earned Jackson both a Grammy Award as well as recognition from both ACM and Congress; ultimately becoming one of country music’s defining moments ever.

Although other artists used their artistic outlets to express anger or demonstrate patriotism in response to the attacks, Jackson decided on an indirect yet emotive response – writing a song with a straightforward message for all listeners to relate to.

This song opens with delicate strings that slowly crescendo into a relaxing guitar melody, setting the stage for Jackson’s soothing lyrics delivered with traditional country flair. The relaxed tempo allows listeners to focus more intently on Jackson’s words and their meaning than on anything else in the song.

Jackson’s message reaches across all segments, uniting and encouraging peace across America. In its verses, it seeks to find common grounds between people by asking how and where they learned of the attacks; its chorus emphasizes tranquility by encouraging love between each person while warning against outside influences that could potentially cause dissension.

While critics criticized Jackson’s song as being overtly patriotic or sentimental, its real meaning lies in how far removed it was from either of those ideologies. What makes Jackson’s lyrics so moving today is their lack of any political overtness or explicit patriotism or partisan views in them.

Aaron Tippin’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly”

Aaron Tippin’s country song, “Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly,” provides an optimistic vision of America. While not shying away from acknowledging other places on Earth as potential homes for its residents, America remains preferred and beloved. Additionally, Tippin’s lyrics emphasize family and tradition – adding an individual feel to an already patriotic theme.

Tippin had written his song prior to September 11, but was inspired to record it following its events. It reached number two on the country chart, and Tippin donated all royalties from sales of his single to the families of those lost on that tragic day. It is a powerful and moving piece, sending a strong message about America’s resilience.

Following 9/11, many country artists wrote songs reflecting upon its tragedies. These tunes ranged from tender reflections on deaths to overt pro-American propaganda songs.

Charlie Daniels Band’s “This Ain’t No Rag It’s a Flag” and Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” were two overtly nationalistic country songs of their time; these could turn many potential country fans away from its genre entirely. Although these songs certainly have their place in American history, their overt nationalism can cause many potential listeners to shy away from country altogether.

Today’s new generation of forward-thinking country musicians and an increasingly diverse listenership are working in concert to reshape its landscape. Reviving outlaw subgenre with artists such as Cash or celebrating queer narratives such as Lil Nas X demonstrate that country music need not conform to an image of whiteness and poverty to succeed.

Charlie Daniels’ “This Ain’t No Rag It’s a Flag”

The attacks of September 11, 2001 claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people and caused severe destruction to New York City’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, and a field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Americans responded with shock, grief, anger, and fear; musicians from various genres addressed this tragedy through songs that encouraged patriotism – with country artists leading with patriotic songs inspired by American pride dominating.

Country musicians provided musical solace after 9/11 through both tender musings of tragedy and patriotic songs like those by Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Toby Keith and Darryl Worley; old and new songs could be heard on radio stations nationwide. Alan Jackson wrote songs of reflection and healing while others like Toby Keith and Darryl Worley expressed patriotic sentiment with gusto.

Charlie Daniels’ song “This Ain’t No Rag It’s a Flag,” written and released in November 2001 by Charlie Daniels himself, quickly became a country classic that resonated with audiences after 9/11. Its powerful message of America’s resilience resonated deeply.

Relistening other popular country songs of that era, including Hank Williams Jr’s rewrite of his 1982 single “America Will Survive” and David Ball’s Riding With Private Malone that expressed support for American soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq is also worthwhile.

Post-9/11 country music was deeply immersed in patriotism, with artists who dared to criticize President George W. Bush or question American wars often being blacklisted from their genre. Artists like Dixie Chicks found themselves disregarded by fans and career wise declined; modern Black country artists sometimes feel excluded by genre that prides itself on love of America – lyrics like Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town” are clear evidence of that exclusion; but young artists like Kacey Musgraves are pushing against that culture of nationalism while challenging its prejudicial assumptions and pushing against its prejudiced assumptions and bias.

Hank Williams Jr.’s “America Will Survive”

Hank Williams was an iconic country icon who defied Music City trends of polish and commercial appeal with his celebration of smoking, drinking and womanizing while upholding self-reliance of “country boys”. Known for wearing dark sunglasses with thick beards that covered scars from an near fatal fall off Ajax Peak in 1975; wearing dark sunglasses; and appearing at Grand Ole Opry performances where his signature song would become iconic: he shot down bears to protect his family – an act which made Williams famous despite everything he would do in Music City trends toward polish and commercial appeal.

At the time of 9/11, Hank was enjoying great success, having written hits such as “A Country Boy Can Survive,” a conservative celebration of rural American life and ideals. Following 9/11’s tragedy, his final track on “America Will Survive” was revised into an anthem of patriotism that remains popular today when mass shootings and political division are commonplace.

Hank Williams had an exceptional 60-year career as one of the most influential country stars of his time. His songs captured both America’s sociopolitical climate and celebrated its unique culture while fueling conservatism’s rise – giving rise to “Make America Great Again.”

As Hank aged, his fiery country artistry started to diminish. By 2002 when he released a single entitled “If You Can’t Love Me Now,” it was evident that his passion had faded considerably. This song depicts rural-urban divide in America as well as longing to take back Florida from Yankees – in essence an ode to Southern pride and longing.