Skillet Sings "You Are My Hope"
International tragedies generate great suffering, but great hope and faith can spring from horrific events. Using its song, "You Are My Hope," Skillet created a tribute honoring everyone touched by the September 11 terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Story Behind the Song
by John Hillman
Memphis, Tennessee native John Cooper, the band's organizer and chief songwriter, experienced his own personal tragedy as a teenager. At age 14, his mother, a popular and beloved piano teacher, died from cancer. But unlike many teens who seek escape through alcohol, drugs, or sex, Cooper turned toward his Christian faith.
"Having your Mom die is probably one of the hardest things a person can go through," the musician admitted. "But there have been other people in my life to help me get through. They've even sort of adopted me as part of their families."
Originally trained as a pianist, Cooper studied trombone and voice before turning to guitar. A huge fan of Christian rock music, the versatile musician formed two successful local Christian bands, Seraph and Funky Dynamo, while still in high school.
"My favorite band was Petra," he recalled. "I later got into bands like Rez and White Cross."
Although they played in separate local bands, Cooper and guitarist Ken Steorts pooled their efforts for an independent CD in 1995. Through the fellowship of Covenant Community Church, the duo connected with drummer Trey McClurkin and formed Skillet.
The group selected the name because of the trio's widely divergent musical backgrounds. Cooper's roots lay in funk, Steorts preferred punk, while McClurkin gravitated to mainstream rock and roll.
"It was a matter of throwing all these styles into the skillet and seeing what we cooked up," Cooper remarked.
Signed with the Ardent/ForeFront label, Skillet released its initial self-titled album in 1996 and followed it with Hey You, I Love Your Soul in 1998. Both CDs received Dove Award nominations for Alernative/Modern Rock Album of the Year.
Two singles from the group's second release, the title cut and "Locked in a Cage," reached the top position on the Christian rock charts. The Gospel Music Association (GMA) also nominated "Locked in a Cage" for Hard Music Recorded Song of the Year.
Despite Skillet's cutting edge rock orientation, the combo also incorporated a strong worship element into its concerts. Although considered somewhat unconventional at the time, the praise songs represented an extension of the group's mission. Eventually, bands such as Sonicflood and Delirious emulated Skillet's combination rock/worship format.
"Our shows, even our records, have a worship thread through him," Cooper said. "We've always played songs like 'Shout to the Lord'. It was several years later when groups like Delirious hit pretty big here in the States."
Beginning in 1999, Skillet underwent major personnel changes with Steorts and McClurkin leaving the group to pursue other musical directions. A year earlier, Cooper's wife Korey came aboard as the keyboard player, and Lori Peters took over on drums with McClurkin's departure. In February 2001, Ben Kasica, a 17-year-old guitar prodigy, converted the trio into a quartet.
That spring, the revitalized band recorded its fourth CD, Alien Youth, with lead vocalist and bass player Cooper in charge of production. The album released in late August captured the electric feel of a live concert as well as proclaiming the band's aggressive evangelistic message. The title cut expresses the youthful generation's zeal and passion to share Christianity worldwide.
"I want people to know we are part of something so massive - it's not about me and Jesus doing our own thing," Korey Cooper said. "But God is so powerful, and His purposes will be accomplished and you have the honor of being part of it."
Although never intended as an anthem for the hurting, the soft rock ballad, "You Are My Hope," struck responsive chords in the aftermath of September 11, addressing the issue of God's presence in changing and turbulent times. Gary Walsh, program director at Jacksonville's WBGB, created a special version of the song intersplicing excerpts from Billy Graham's memorial speech at the National Cathedral and sound bytes from President Bush.
"We've always tried to share our passion for God through rock, worship, and pop music," John Cooper said. "We're excited about the success of 'You Are My Hope' especially during this time of tragedy and uncertainty. God's timing is always perfect and I'm honored that He has used us to bring people hope and encouragement.
Ardent Records and Chordant Distribution sent the edited version to Christian radio stations nationwide. By late October, the song climbed to number one on the CCM Update's Christian Hits Radio list, the first Skillet number to top this chart.
Like many Christians, Skillet found solace and comfort following America's attack in Psalm 46:1. The familiar verse reads, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble."
"People all over the nation are searching for answers and a sense of hope," Cooper said. "I want to offer this song, along with our prayers and sympathy, to be used in any way that can be helpful and uplifting. May God prove himself to be true by bringing us hope and healing our hearts."