"I wound up basically having to clear my calendar so I could deliver what I promised, which was to read their stories," he said.
Rather than being a burden, the stories were inspiring.
"Every story had power. Every story was unique and every story mattered," West said. "And the reason I chose one over another (to write a song about) had nothing to do with one being more significant than another. It was just that I was moved to create."
The project became the 12 songs of "Into the Light," some of which will be shared when West joins performers in Winter Jam 2013, which makes a stop in Charleston Friday.
The first song on the CD, "Forgiveness," was inspired by a woman named Renee Napier, whose 20-year-old daughter was killed by a drunken driver. The driver was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Napier not only forgave the driver, but also petitioned for his early release from prison, which he was granted. And the young man will join her on a speaking tour to warn about the dangers of driving drunk.
"I'm writing a book on forgiveness, and it dawned on me that every one of us will have to cross that bridge of forgiveness," West said, "whether we have to ask for it or give it. It's a pretty life-defining message, and it opened this whole world of allowing me to dive in and communicate the necessity and importance of forgiveness."
West said the stories would continue to inspire and inform his songwriting. As for the people whose stories made it into "Into the Light," he has tried as much as possible to make personal visits to them to perform their songs.
"I would keep it a secret until the time was right. That was kind of an agonizing period, where you feel like you have the world's biggest secret," he said.
Once the album was complete, West said he invited every person who inspired a song to Nashville for a special concert.
"There's something about connecting with people when they realize they wrote a story and inspired a song. I think what's resonating is that people are saying, 'Maybe my story is worth telling.' I feel like that's my mission in music."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.