“As I was watching the news unfold that morning, it was like my world fell,” he said. “There was a pit in my stomach, and as I watched the story unfold on TV, it was something that kind of took my breath away.”
Parsons had friends in Orlando, but none who were at Pulse nightclub the night of the June 12 massacre that took 49 lives and injured dozens of others. But, as a gay man, the tragedy still hit very close to home.
The 32-year-old York Township singer and former “American Idol” season 10 contestant said he remembers feeling helpless. At first, he didn’t know what to do or say. No one did, he said.
But when he sat down to collect his thoughts on paper, the words poured out effortlessly.
“It was the hardest and easiest song I ever wrote,” he said. “The hardest because of how emotional it was and easiest because when I was writing it, the words and music just flowed out.”
He titled it “Forty-Nine Times” for each of the 49 victims who lost their lives that night. It took him two days to write, record and post a music video on YouTube – the fastest he’d ever released a song. But he never expected the response it would get.
Within a few days, the song had gone viral. (Today, it has close to 100,000 views on YouTube). And soon, he was being asked to play it at area events.
Parsons will perform his tribute at a candlelight procession honoring LGBT victims of violence, suicide and murder on Tuesday as part of the Pride Festival of Central PA. The vigil, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., is a new edition to Harrisburg’s Pride Week this year.
He also plans to perform the song at Orlando’s Come Out With Pride event in October.
“I believe the song speaks of a strong community and a people standing as one in the wake of a horrible tragedy,” Parsons said.
His goal when he first wrote it was to touch just one person – maybe a family member of a victim who could listen and know they’re not alone. Since then, several family members and others who were at the club that night have reached out to him to thank him for helping them heal.
“That was the most important moment of my entire career,” he said. “Knowing that the song I wrote in a day could help somebody heal or just remember that night but also find strength in it was amazing.”
“Forty-Nine Times” is one of the only original songs Parsons has released in his post-“American Idol” singing career. He performs popular dance hits at Howl At The Moon, a dueling piano bar in Baltimore, three times a week. And his spare time is spent posting mainly cover songs to YouTube.
Typically, one of his covers gets a couple thousand views over a period of several weeks. So, when he saw the numbers rising each day for “Forty-Nine Times,” he thought the YouTube counter was broken.
“I was like, ‘I’m confused, what’s happening, why is this doing this?’” he said. “I was kind of taken aback by how much impact it was having on people who were listening to it from everywhere around the world.”
The success and positive response of “Forty-Nine Times” is now inspiring Parsons to do more original music.
He’s working on an album of hard-hitting originals, which he plans to release next year. But people can also expect some new songs on his YouTube channel this summer.
“After doing this and realizing that music … can be used as a tool to help people, I think more songs on the album will be geared toward that direction, helping those who are hurting find strength,” he said. “I just want it to be something that is hard-hitting and honest and truthful and something people can relate to.”
If you go
What: Pride Festival of Central PA candlelight procession (including tribute from York singer Brandon Parsons)
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 26
Where: The procession begins at LGBT Center of Central PA, 1306 N. Third St., Harrisburg, and will proceed to Riverfront Park in Harrisburg.
Support the cause: All proceeds from sales of “Forty-Nine Times” on iTunes go to PulseofOrlando.org, an Orlando charity that supports the Pulse victims and their families.
More information: Visit www.centralpapridefestival.com.