New movement, new lyrics: Austin native songwriter shares insight on his George Floyd tribute song


AUSTIN (KXAN) — He shares the same first name as George Floyd, but it’s not his name he wants people to remember. Rather, the man who died at the knee of a police officer.

Austin native songwriter George Powell created a tribute to Floyd, which has since gone viral, gaining more than a million views and tens of thousands of shares.

You can view the original video on Powell’s Facebook.

He shared how the idea came to mind.

“I heard people start singing ‘A Change Gonna Come’ and my wife was like, ‘You should sing your version of it.’ So I started, I tried to start recording something and as soon as I started, it was like, I was singing the first line that Sam Cooke sings. You know, it starts, ‘I was born by the river…’ and then it just hit me, what if I sing George Floyd’s story?”

Powell then went on a journey to learn about Floyd’s life, where he was born, where he grew up and the lyrics started to take shape. He crafted his version to the tune of Cooke’s classic civil rights song with new lyrics to reflect what he had learned.

He also gained insight into some of Floyd’s last spoken words.

“I learned about his mother. I thought his mother was still living. It just kind of accentuated, you know when I did his story, the fact that his mother wasn’t alive but he was still calling for his mother in that moment. When you do the research, it really brings the story to life… I felt like this is a new movement, it needed new lyrics.”

You can read Powell’s lyrics below:

He was born in North Carolina

He was heaven sent

He grew up in Houston

He’s been busy ever since

It’s been too hard living,

But He didn’t have to die

‘Cause George Floyd didn’t hurt nobody

He was trying to comply

He didn’t want no trouble

They had him down on the ground

It was all over $20

Why did the laws even have to come around

And I can hear him call for his mother

Saying, “mother help me please”

Cause he knew every time he called his mother

Mother would immediately get down on her knees

He said I can’t breathe

I won’t last for long

But right now he’s resting in peace

Somehow we gotta carry on

Powell hopes the song can serve as part of the movement which has followed Floyd’s death. It’s important to him Floyd’s name lives on.

“One of my hopes is that with this song, by it being tailored to George Floyd, that we can continue to say his name and that people will continue to connect with his story and what happened to him. It’s kind of like Martin Luther King, whenever you bring up [his name] it brings a host of history and just a lot of memories, and people can kind of unite around that,” he said.

“And so I’m hoping that with this particular song that, okay… I’m hoping that we can continue to say the name of George Floyd because we’ve never seen an issue that has taken place, in my opinion, in the African-American community that has gotten such a global response… Now that people are responding to that, I think if we can keep the name of George Floyd alive, that we can keep moving forward cause that’s what it’s about. We don’t want it to die. We don’t want the movement to fizzle out and for us to get distracted and we go back to work and everything’s back at 100%. When we go back to 100%, we still need to be at 100% in the movement.”

The man behind the music; his comments on Austin’s protests

Powell currently lives in Houston, but has earned his recognition in the Texas Capitol.

He graduated from LBJ High School and Huston-Tillotson University, performed for former President Obama at his Austin rally in front of 20,000 supporters, and earlier in 2013, the City of Austin honored Powell for his musical contributions in Central Texas. Former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell proclaimed June 23, 2011 as George Powell Day.

He tuned in when protesters started marching in his home town.

“I’m friends with the president [of the university] on Facebook… I saw images from her, I saw so many images from everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people at Huston-Tillotson. It was very, very powerful. Very powerful to see so many people, a diverse group, such large numbers, and everyone had positive things to say and most of all, from what I heard, it was peaceful… I was glad for that to be my alma mater,” Powell said. “Austin has changed, but to see that… it gave me hope. It let me know that a change is gonna come. A change is closer now than it has ever been.”

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