In surprise win, H.E.R.’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ takes Grammy for song of the year

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Singer, songwriter and guitarist H.E.R. has won the Grammy Award for song of the year for her 2020 protest track, “I Can’t Breathe,”

Written in memory of George Floyd and the many Black Americans who died at the hands of police, the deeply ruminative R&B ballad became one of many songs that soundtracked the surge of Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

“We wrote this song over FaceTime, and I didn’t imagine that my fear and that my pain would turn into impact and it would possibly turn into change,” H.E.R., born Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, said during her acceptance speech.


Live updates of the 2021 Grammy Awards winners list: 83 categories including album, song, record and best new artist.

March 14, 2021

The song of the year award honors “I Can’t Breathe”’s songwriters, Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas.

“I want to thank God for giving me the gift of a voice and a pen and using me as a vessel to you know create change, and I’m so thankful for Tiara and Dernst Emile who are such a huge part of this record,” she continued. “I want to thank my mom. I recorded this song myself in my bedroom at my mom’s house. And I want to thank my dad, he cried — he was in tears when I wrote the song and I played it for him. He was the first person I played it for.”

H.E.R. beat out favorites Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa in the category.

The California native’s win wasn’t the only surprise of the night — wearing matching sunglasses and masks, Beyoncé and Jay Z made a surprise appearance in the audience, following reports that they would stay home. They duly stood to applaud H.E.R. as she, dressed in a luxe Dundas velvet suit, approached the stage.

Earlier in the night, H.E.R.’s joint single with Robert Glasper and Meshell Ndegeocello, “Better Than I Imagine,” won the Grammy for R&B song. She won two Grammys in 2019, for R&B album and R&B performance.

“I’m so speechless right now, I can’t believe this,” she said, concluding her song of the year acceptance. “Remember, we are the change that we wish to see. That fight that we had in us in the summer of 2020, keep that same energy.”

Watch here for live updates on winners, performances, the red carpet, the COVID-impacted telecast and more.

March 14, 2021