It was a magnificent, late-summer morning in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The Yankees were atop the American League East with a 13-game lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox. The top box-office draws were Peter Hyams’ “The Musketeer” and the romantic comedy “Two Can Play That Game.”
And at the World Trade Center, the staff at Borders and Sam Goody were preparing for a busy day, with Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” Nickelback’s “Silver Side Up,” Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” and Mariah Carey’s “Glitter” soundtrack all slated for release that day.
Glassnote Entertainment Group founder/CEO Daniel Glass, at the time president of Artemis Records, had gone for a run before getting ready to go to work at the label’s offices on West 18th Street. As he emerged from the Union Square subway station at mid-morning, he immediately noticed something was wrong. “Thousands of people were staring downtown,” he recalls. “Until that day, I didn’t realize you could see the World Trade Center towers from there.”
Up by Times Square at RCA Records’ headquarters on 1540 Broadway, then-RCA chairman/North America CEO Bob Jamieson was watching a TV report about a plane crash at the World Trade Center when he realized that he would have a clear view of lower Manhattan from the other end of the hall. Once there, he saw that the top of the North Tower was enveloped in smoke.
“I was standing there looking out the window at the World Trade Center and then saw the next plane fly into the other tower,” Jamieson recalls. “As it hit, I literally fell backward into a chair.”
About an hour later, J&R Music & Computer World corporate sales manager Marty Singer was standing outside the downtown Manhattan store by City Hall, paralyzed with horror as he saw people leaping out of the stricken Twin Towers.
Suddenly, the South Tower buckled and began to crumble. A massive cloud of black smoke and dust began expanding out from the site toward the store. “It was pitch black like midnight and coming straight at us,” Singer says.
A half hour later, the hellish scene repeated itself when the North Tower fell.
In the wake of the devastation wrought on Sept. 11, major concerts and music-related events that week were postponed or canceled, including the Latin Grammy Awards, which were slated for that evening in Los Angeles, and the CMJ Music Marathon, scheduled for Sept. 13-16 in New York.
Tours by U2 and Britney Spears were postponed, and by the end of the month other tours by Janet Jackson, Shaggy, Weezer and Brian Wilson were called off due to terrorism fears. Music sales dropped 5% during the week of the attacks, while the New York metropolitan area suffered a 16.2% decline, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Immediately following the attacks, many U.S. radio stations abandoned their respective formats and switched to all-news coverage. But by the following week, radio began playing an important role in the healing process, as stations switched back to music programming. Patriotic songs came to the fore, including Lee Greenwood’s 1984 country hit “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which entered the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time during the Sept. 29 chart week, coming in at No. 16.
The recording industry also mobilized to provide support to the families of 9/11 victims. By the end of the month, the music industry had collected $170 million through various fund-raising initiatives, led by “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” a Sept. 21 telethon that raised $150 million for the United Way’s September 11 Fund (Billboard, Oct. 6, 2001). The telethon, which was simulcast on all U.S. broadcast TV networks and many cable networks, featured performances by a superstar roster that included Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi and Dixie Chicks.
Many acts also stepped up to make individual contributions. Robert Cray said he would donate all proceeds from his Sept. 15 show in Seattle, while Earth, Wind & Fire pledged $25,000 to the Red Cross on behalf of New York emergency responders. Still others, including Backstreet Boys, Spears, Jackson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jennifer Lopez, Maxwell and Sade said they would donate a portion of concert proceeds to various relief funds.
German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, the parent of BMG, said it would contribute $2 million to a New York fund for the families of the hundreds of emergency responders who lost their lives in the disaster, while Sony planned to donate $3 million to the New York chapter of the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and $1 million to the NYC Public/Private Initiatives, which aided families of city employees involved in rescue efforts. Merge Records and Saddle Creek decided to go ahead with a planned Sept. 15 label showcase, with proceeds going to emergency responders’ families.
The music industry’s post-9/11 benefit events culminated Oct. 20 at Madison Square Garden, where Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Destiny’s Child and other acts performed to a capacity crowd that included surviving members of the New York police and fire departments and other emergency services and families of those killed in the attacks.
Collective efforts also emerged on store shelves. Columbia Records assembled “God Bless America,” a compilation designed to raise money for the Twin Towers Fund, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the Nov. 3 issue on sales of 181,000 units, according to SoundScan. Aside from Celine Dion’s live rendition of the title track, as heard on the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon, the rest of the set comprised thematically appropriate archival tracks.
On the Billboard 200 dated Nov. 17, the all-star tribute “What’s Going On” EP arrived at No. 18 after weeks of buildup. The EP, which was really nine different mixes of the classic Marvin Gaye original, featured a galaxy of stars including Spears, Lopez, Bono and Christina Aguilera. Echoing 1985’s “We Are the World,” the charity release benefited the United Way’s September 11th Fund and Artists Against AIDS Worldwide.
A month later, on the Dec. 15 tally, live set “The Concert for New York City” arrived at No. 27. Proceeds from the two-CD album-whittled down from the six-hour concert-and its companion DVD went to the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which helped lower-income New Yorkers and families of rescue workers affected by the terrorist attacks.
The Billboard album charts also featured individual artists’ reflections on the disaster. One of the most prominent was Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” The song, penned by the country titan about the attacks, became the lead single from his next album, “Drive.” Jackson world-premiered the song on the Nov. 7 Country Music Assn. Awards telecast and it quickly jumped onto the Hot Country Songs chart at No. 25, vaulting to No. 1 five weeks later. It spent five weeks at No. 1 and paved the way for a stunning debut from Drive, which bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 on Feb. 2, 2002, on first-week sales of 423,000 units, according to SoundScan.
Just blocks away from what has since become known as Ground Zero, J&R sustained extensive damage to its numerous retail outlets along Park Row, including its flagship music store, which had to junk its entire inventory.
“Everyone advised us not to open until after Christmas,” Friedman recalls. “But Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani asked us to open as soon as we could to help revitalize the neighborhood.”
J&R’s Singer spent the night after the attacks inside the store.
“One of the most amazing sights was sunrise the next morning,” he says, “with the void in the sky.”