I began writing I Still Believe in September of 2001 while driving through the wheat fields during harvest near Colfax, Washington. Visions of "amber waves of grain" and "purple mountains' majesty" along with questions about where our country was headed post-9/11 were going through my mind when the phrases, "As long as there's a mountain left to stand on...as long as there's a sea to shining sea" came to me. When I returned home, my good friend Kim Deardorff and my wife Conna helped me finish the song.
As loyalty to America began disintegrating around us, it became clear that this song could easily be misconstrued and taken up as a battle cry by extremists on various spectra whose views I don't share. That is true, I suppose, of any song. It takes on a life of its own.
It's been nearly 20 years since we recorded I Still Believe. It included vocals by my daughters Emily Beth and Chelsea, who were just 8 and 9 at the time.
We'd all watched the videos of the World Trade Center towers falling—over and over and over. We were emotionally saturated with the growing angst and fear that flooded our country like a tsunami. Our four children felt it, too. Conna, who watched the towers fall live on television during a class in law school, had to fly to sing at an event in Tennessee a week after the attack. She could barely bring herself to board the plane with our youngest daughter Adriana, who was still a baby.
Many of us were shocked and confused at how anti-American many Americans became in the wake of the disaster. It was not a good time to release a song with patriotic overtones, and it has never really been a good time since.
I release it today with some trepidation and with the understanding that it is subject to the interpretation of listeners I will never have the opportunity to meet and discuss our differing views as to what it means to be an American.
While I've always had a deep appreciation for the privilege of being a citizen of the United States, I have never been blind to my country's shortcomings. It has pained me to see growing divides among well-intended people increasingly interested in seeing things only from their own points of view, not to mention through the lenses of their worst fears and prejudices.
Many courageous young soldiers of every color and gender have died fighting for causes they barely understood, much less embraced. They've signed up or been drafted to dangerous front lines, often to support leaders and politicians more interested in furthering their own interests than in having the backs of the people they claim to lead.
Our country is founded on a legacy of freedom to disagree on a good many fundamental issues. Its structure allows us to do so peacefully and respectfully with much leeway to acknowledge our shared human limitations and to discuss and learn from each other. It allows us to care and be cared for, because every one of us eventually reaches a point where we can no longer care for ourselves. It allows us to believe as we do—very differently from one another—with protection of law and due process. It affords us the freedom to fight with words and even music rather than weapons and to rethink our views and change our minds without fearing for our physical safety.
That is the freedom for which I stand, and it's the spirit behind the song.
I spent most of today (Memorial Day 2021) creating the video for I Still Believe. I pray it will be heard and shared in the spirit with which it was originally intended—and that all who listen will feel respected and represented.
I'm headed out to fire up the grill with my family and finish out the day contemplating the continuing freedom I'm willing to afford others as well as the freedom that others continue to afford me.
For it is still "more blessed to give than to receive. ~Acts 20:35
Bill Young, who sang the lead vocal for I Still Believe, is an old friend of mine from college. Conna knew him back in high school when they were both violinists for the New England Youth Ensemble in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. Bill is a gifted vocalist who sang for several years with the Heritage Singers and first gained national recognition among Nashville's musical elite when he won TNN's "You Can Be a Star." He recorded his vocal for I Still Believe in Kim Deardorff's home studio in Nashville.
Kim Deardorff is another much-loved musician friend from my high school days. We first met at Camp Kulaqua where we made music together at every campfire. We've played in various bands and collaborated on recording projects many times over the years.
Found in a garbage heap in Korea more than five decades ago and adopted as a baby by an American family, Kim began writing music for piano at age 5. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has been involved in the music industry for more than twenty years. He's been privileged to work with Walt Disney World, Compaq Computers, The Discovery Channel, The Kennedy Space Center, Nissan, Country Music Television, Sea World, Universal Studios, ABC, The Hard Rock Cafe, Warner Chappell, and Sony. He is also a Kawai-sponsored piano artist who travels nationwide sharing his original music and telling his unique story. As an ambassador for the Holt International organization, he has helped establish more than 5,000 new sponsorships for orphaned children worldwide.
I often take unfinished songs and recordings to Kim for feedback and refinement. He has an excellent ear for mixing and mastering—skills I'm still working to develop. It becomes clearer to me with each passing year that I'll never catch up with him.
I recorded part of the instrumental track and Emily Beth's and Chelsea's vocals in my barn studio at our home in Swan Valley, Montana. I still miss those innocent little-girl voices reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It felt weighty even then to have them pledge allegiance without fully comprehending what that meant. It was always important to us to raise them to think for themselves about life, religion, and country.
Emily Beth and her husband Matt now have two baby daughters of their own. Chelsea and her husband Kyle are expecting a baby girl in October.
Kim arranged for additional background vocals by three members of Truth and instrumentals by hot shot studio musicians in Nashville. Bill recorded his lead vocal last. Kim brought it all together, mixing and mastering as he does so well.