In the wake of the tragic anniversary of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre, singer songwriter Brandon Parsons wants to remind us “We must never hide.” The former American Idol contestant paid tribute to the victims of the Orlando tragedy with his original song, “Forty-Nine Times,” which he will sing at Pittsburgh Pride, one year after the deadly shootings took place.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured dozens of others in one of Orlando’s hottest gay nightclubs, Pulse. Parsons was shocked and outraged as details slowly emerged. Like so many others, he watched the news unfold Sunday morning. Parsons said, “There was a pit in my stomach. It was like my whole world fell. It took my breath away.”
Depressed from the catastrophic events, Parsons said, “I didn’t want to do anything for two to three days.” After a period of mourning, he realized he couldn’t just sit around; he had to do something. So he penned “Forty-Nine Times,” encapsulating his feelings about the appalling events. The chorus repeats, “And in the blink of an eye our hearts slowly died as we felt our Pulse 49 times.”
The song is an anthem for Pride with beautiful and bold lyrics. Parsons sings, “Stand strong and always fight. Break free and always love. Never lose sight of who we are. We will never break. We will never die. We are made for more than just tonight. Takes more than just a gun. More than you to tear us down. So let your colors fly free. We are forever strong.”
Parsons, who is originally from York, Pennsylvania, began his music career at a young age. He started in the church choir and eventually became a worship leader. He played weddings and coffee houses singing Christian music. Uncomfortable with his church’s views on homosexuality, Parsons left. Now, he resides in Baltimore, Maryland, where he performs at the lively piano bar/nightclub, Howl at the Moon, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
The singer-songwriter said, “I wrote ‘Forty-Nine Times’ for therapeutic reasons. Just to get the words out. I thought maybe it would get a few hits online.” The song skyrocketed on YouTube with nearly 200,000 hits, and more than a million hits on other websites. Parsons added, “I thought I could reach a few people and let them know how I felt. I never expected it to be half as big.”
When Parsons comes to Pittsburgh to sing, it won’t be his first visit. He said, “I have been to Pittsburgh a few times. It was a while ago. I briefly lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, with a good friend of mine while she was going to college. I remember I rode the Incline and I went to the gay bar, Pegasus.”
He added, “Pittsburgh is a beautiful city.”
Parsons offered advice for LGBT youth who are struggling with their sexual identity. “Always be yourself. Never be afraid of who you are, and be comfortable in your own skin. Coming out of the closet is a scary thing. Be brave.”
The composer had similar advice for budding musicians: “Listen to the criticism. Don’t give up. Stick with it. And be yourself. Once I was myself, things really opened up for me.”
Parsons is enjoying his success, and he was quick to realize it came once he let his colors fly free.
See Brandon Parson perform on the following dates:
Friday, June 9 at Howl at the Moon
Saturday, June 10 at Pride in the Street
Sunday, June 11 at PrideFest