Two months after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, Alan Jackson debuted a new song at that year's CMA Awards, taking the stage to perform "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." The poignant ballad instantly resonated with fans and became a hit for Jackson, topping the charts for five weeks beginning that December and winning the Grammy Award for Best Country Song, as well as the CMA Awards for Song of the Year and Single of the Year.
Speaking to Yahoo! News in 2011, Jackson shared that he got the idea for the song at 4 a.m. one Sunday morning. "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," he recalled. "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. 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."
Jackson called the song's live debut at the CMA Awards "a tough performance." "Just the whole idea of releasing the song was a little bit tough," he explained. "I wasn't sure I wanted to put it out, but everybody convinced me that it was the thing to do... and in retrospect, I agree with that. But, you know, it's hard to go out there and sing something new, anyway, and just the topic made it difficult, too. I just remember — other than being relieved that I got through it — I just felt very proud that it seemed to cause a reaction in people. And I was proud that I got to do it and that it seemed like it meant something."
While the 61-year-old noted that he figured he would be able to eventually phase the song out of his live shows, the response it receives encourages him to continue to play it. "At the time, it felt very meaningful to people, and I felt really good about contributing something," he said. "And then I thought it would just fade away and then we'd ease it out of the show, but I still see people out there that I feel like are waiting for that song, you know?"
Jackson added, "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 their lighters and their phones and I think are moved by it... and that still makes me glad I did it."