Toby Keith expressed America’s fury and resolve—and support for the military—in “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” and “American Soldier.” Alan Jackson went for empathy, and found it, in “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”—a crossover hit that became American’s unofficial 9/11 national anthem. Tim McGraw’s heart-rending “If You’re Reading This” has been played at a thousand military wakes and funerals. So yes, country music rose to the occasion.
To be sure, many American political writers, not all of them young, are unfamiliar with this music, underscoring the cultural divide between journalists and our audience. When I was covering the White House, Toby Keith played at a military base where George W. Bush was speaking. When Toby began playing the first chords of “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” the troops erupted in thunderous applause of grateful recognition. Inside the media tent, the tune brought few signs of recognition.
But that’s not what Ted Cruz said. He said that rock music dropped the ball after 9/11. He’s wrong. Ten days after the attacks, 21 popular musicians gathered on darkened studio stages lit by candlelight in New York, Los Angeles, and London to sign songs in a benefit format. Some of the artists manned the phones to take pledges, the money going to charity. The event was called “America: A Tribute to Heroes.”
The performing artists included rockers and country stars and reggae singers and pop music icons. They intermingled songs of hope and defiance and empathy and determination and tolerance—all the conflicting emotions Americans were feeling in those raw September days.