PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Maryland based singer-songwriter Tom Prasada-Rao, 62, spends a lot of time on the sofa.
He was sitting on his sofa and watching CNN news coverage on the evening of May 28. Three days earlier, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis Police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
Prasada-Rao, who is undergoing treatment for stage four head, neck and lung cancer, was disturbed by what he saw and the details he learned about why and how Floyd was killed. The deadly encounter started as four Minneapolis Police officers were looking into whether Floyd had passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
“This man lost his life over a $20 bill? The writer in me started spinning. I was telling a great buddy of mine ‘Man, I don’t even know that I can take credit for it [the lyrics].’ It just came tumbling out of me so fast, it’s like I stuck my hand in the water and pulled out a pretty big fish, I really didn’t do much,” said Prasada-Tao from his Silver Spring home.
That evening, he recorded the song and then posted the lyrics and the chord chart to Facebook. The next morning he woke up to learn thousands of people had viewed his post. In a matter of days, the song had been covered by 100 singers from all over the world. He is proud of the performances that have been posted to his Facebook page, Youtube and other platforms.
But one cover, performed by Karl Werne of Norfolk, touches Prasada-Rao at the core. An effect in Werne’s video captures what is now an inextricable link to George Floyd.
“As the song progresses, it morphs into a picture of George Floyd and there’s something about that slow morphing you don’t even realize its happening. Toward the end of the song you realize you’re not looking at Karl Werne’s face anymore, you’re looking at George Floyd’s face. It wrecked me– it really wrecked me to see his version of the song, ” said Prasada-Rao.
Twenty Dollar Bill was recently recognized by austin360 by Austin American- Statesman as one of the top seven protest songs of the year.
The artist says if you want to cover the song; it’s available for free. He hopes if anyone monetizes the song, they will use the proceeds for a good cause.