9/11: The Music Events That Helped Bring Us Back

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Tom Petty sang it eloquently: "I won't back down" at America: A Concert For Heroes

Tom Petty sang it eloquently: “I won’t back down” at the America: A Tribute to Heroes, the first of two 911 tribute concerts

Whatever our differences in the United States of America, we know when we must come together. In the wake of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on our soil, we were all sorely in need of healing and reaffirmation. For each person touched by the tragedy—and, truly, that would be all of us—there was reflection and introspection. But at the same time, we needed to know that others felt the way we did, that there was still an “us,” that this murderous act would not define us. Music helped bring us back.

Two events—“America: A Tribute to Heroes” and “The Concert for New York City”—were organized following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The first, the two-hour “Heroes” event, was created by the executives of the four major TV networks and presented telethon style (the exact locations where the telethon was being broadcast were not revealed, only the cities—New York and Los Angeles), with actor George Clooney organizing the celebrity appearances.

The program was carried by 35 broadcast and cable networks on Friday, September 21, 2001, and featured a stunning lineup of performers including Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, U2, Billy Joel, the Dixie Chicks, Neil Young, Alicia Keys, Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Willie Nelson, Sting and several others. Speakers ranging from Muhammad Ali to Tom Cruise to Robin Williams also participated. More than $200 million was raised for the United Way’s September 11 Telethon Fund.

Watch a son of New York sing his tribute to New York from the event

Watch Neil Young sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” concert

Watch Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ moving performance

Watch Bruce Springsteen perform “a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters”

But there was still more to come from our artists. The second of two 911 tribute concerts, also a benefit, took place at Madison Square Garden, a month later, on October 20. Organized by Paul McCartney, the multi-act concert honored the first responders who had put their lives on the line, as well as those who perished on that horrific September day.

McCartney called upon some of his closest friends, classic rock stars all, to help out, and they responded in kind: David Bowie, Elton John, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, John Mellencamp, James Taylor and the Who, as well as such contemporary stars as Jay-Z, the Backstreet Boys and Destiny’s Child. Politicians, actors, athletes and comedians spoke, films were shown by Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Woody Allen. McCartney, of course, also performed. A double-CD and home video were later released.

Watch the Who perform “Who Are You” at the Concert for New York City in 2001…

When introducing “Heroes” at the 4:32 mark, David Bowie said: “My fellow New Yorkers… I’d particularly like to say hello to the folks from my local ladder. It’s an absolute privilege to play for you tonight.”

Watch McCartney lead the assembled performers for the closing number

There were many other tributes and benefits in those days after 9/11. They could not erase what had happened, but they made a statement that needed to be made: We would not be beaten down by terror. Best Classic Bands will run this feature every year. #NeverForget

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Jas
    #1 Jas 11 September, 2023, 07:47

    Very emotional watching these performances again, especially David Bowie singing Heroes. Thanks for posting this.

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