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 wake 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 100 covers, in a range of treatments. “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I could have written something 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 above, he plays his old Gibson tenor, tuned in perfect fifths, from lowest note to highest, Eb Bb F C. As far more guitarists favor the regular six-string, I’ve arranged “$20 Bill (for George Floyd)” for standard guitar. If you’d like to play along with the video, or the one Prasada-Rao plays remotely with a band, posted on his YouTube page, just tune your guitar down a half step.
The bulk of the chords in this arrangement are compact voicings on the bottom strings, aimed to capture the uncluttered sound that Prasada-Rao gets on his tenor. Familiarize yourself with the shapes before you learn the song, as these are not your basic open cowboy chords. The second-position E chord (first seen in bar 1) in particular might be tricky, as it requires a fairly large stretch of the fretting fingers, but it’s worth it for its distinctive sonority. If you find that E too difficult, you can play the G# on the E and A/E chords on string 3, fret 1, instead of string 4, fret 6.
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.