Almost six years after the infamous phrase, “I can’t breathe,” became the rallying chant of the masses after Eric Garner uttered those same words while being choked to death by New York City policeman Daniel Pantaleo — and rekindled by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin during which Floyd repeated those same, haunting words — the phrase has returned as a driving force for protesters around the globe demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism that specifically targets the Black community.
In light of these unfortunate events, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R. leveraged her platform to express her solidarity with activists and protestors across the nation, and to honor the painful words that catalyzed the movement with an emotionally compelling performance. On Wednesday (June 10), she debuted the new song, “I Can’t Breathe,” which she described as “very painful” and “very revealing,” during iHeartRadio’s Living Room Concert Series.
H.E.R. introduced her set with “I Can’t Breathe,” stating that, “Just by the title, you know that it means something very, very kind of painful and very revealing… These lyrics were kind of easy to write because it came from a conversation with what’s happening right now, what’s been happening, and the change that we need to see. I think music is powerful when it comes to change and when it comes to healing, and that’s why I wrote this song — to make a mark in history.”
The tune is set to a chilling, and somber Blues pattern. The acoustic guitar, supported by the keening organ add to the lonesome feeling produced by the song. The singers mid-tempo strumming, and raw vocals command attention in a way that will literally leave goose bumps all over your body. Along with the powerhouse harmonies in the background, “I Can’t Breathe,” truly captures both the emotion and the reality of what our society is currently experiencing. She sang: “What is a gun to a man that surrenders / What’s it gonna take for someone to defend her / If we all agree that we’re equal as people / Then why can’t we see what’s evil?” Then, Floyd’s words resound throughout an explosive crescendo on the chorus: “I can’t breathe / You’re taking my life from me / I can’t breathe / Will anyone fight for me?”
H.E.R.’s performance on the iHeartRadio Living Room Series helped raise money for Meals on Wheels and the Urban League.
Watch the singer’s powerful performance below.