BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
Shortly after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, Tom Prasada-Rao, a singer-songwriter based in Silver Spring, Maryland, was watching CNN footage of protests when in a fit of inspiration he penned a new song. In its aching and deeply felt contemplation, “$20 Bill (for George Floyd)” brilliantly captures the grief and rage coursing through the veins of so many in the face of Floyd’s senseless murder, over cigarettes said to have been purchased with counterfeit currency.
“Writing this song was like trying to hold back an avalanche of lyrics, trying to write a line while remembering the next two that were already in the queue,” Prasada-Rao says. “It’s hard for me to take credit for something that I felt like I just stuck my hand in the water and pulled out a big fish.”
Though “$20 Bill (for George Floyd)” is only weeks old, it has already seen more than a hundred covers, in a range of treatments. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I could have written a song with this kind of reach, with so many amazing singers and musicians over such a variety of genres covering my song,” Prasada-Rao says. “But most importantly, it’s gratifying to know that it seems to have filled a need for some kind of emotional expression among the community of songwriters and musicians. And I am humbled to have played a small part in that.”
For self-accompaniment, Prasada-Rao tends to use a tenor guitar, which he finds leaves a lot of space for melodic embellishments. In the video he posted on his YouTube channel, he plays his old Gibson tenor, tuned in perfect fifths, from lowest note to highest, Eb Bb F C. “$20 Bill (for George Floyd)” is arranged for standard six-string guitar on Ukulele’s sister website, acousticguitar.com, and it’s presented here for ukulele in reentrant or low-G tuning.
While Prasada-Rao plays the song in the key of Eb major, I’ve arranged it in the more ukulele-friendly key of D. If you’d like to play along with the video, or the one Prasada-Rao plays remotely with a band , just use a capo at the first fret. Try playing variations on the strumming pattern shown here, and you can decorate the D chord by hammering on to the second-fret F# from the open second (E) string.
Of course, feel free to ditch this arrangement altogether in favor of your own interpretation, which you can add to the growing collection of readings of this beautiful protest song already posted on the internet.