Leon Bridges
Singer Leon Bridges (Courtesy photo)

A music video shot in Baltimore has earned a Grammy nomination for an up-and-coming R&B artist who has been compared to greats like Sam Cooke.

Leon Bridges’ “River,” which has been described by MTV and others as healing and hopeful, has been nominated for Best Video for the upcoming awards ceremony, which airs live Sunday, Feb. 12 on CBS.

“Getting the Grammy nomination was exciting and a bit unexpected as historically the category tends to favor more pop-driven videos and videos with bigger budgets and productions like Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade,’” Bridges said.

The singer’s competitors for the award include “Formation” by Beyoncé; “Up & Up” by Coldplay.

“The nomination was shocking too because we’re at the end of my album cycle and I was sleep when I got the text message, it was something I didn’t expect,” Bridges said.

The video for the song, which is on Bridges’ album “Coming Home,” was set in Baltimore after the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray. It takes viewers to Sandtown-Winchester, Penn-North and other inner city locations.

In the video, Bridges sits in a motel room playing a guitar as footage from the city’s Gray-related uprising plays on the television set. The clip also depicts a baptism, a man with a bloody shirt leaving a crime scene and a mother and son who lost a loved one.

Bridges and video director Miles Jay said they wanted to capture the real and raw story.

“I wanted to showcase that, through all of the injustice, there’s real hope in the world, and what better place to show that than in Baltimore?” Bridges said. “We could have gone in many different directions with the video, because when I wrote the song four or five years ago, I wasn’t thinking about Baltimore, but the honest story of the black community in Baltimore struck me, and Miles also knew some folks personally.”

Jay discovered that Baltimore would serve as the perfect location for the video when he was researching a feature film project.

“Baltimore is a bit of a different world,” Jay said. “I saw what was being portrayed in the media but then hung out with people, went to their homes and I wanted to tell stories of what happens to people after you see them on the media.

“So much of the video was me trying to pull from the source of Leon’s emotions and what he was trying to convey,” he said. “And besides, ‘River’ is one of my favorite songs of the year.”

The lyrics for the song include: “In my darkness I remember/Mama’s words reoccur to me/Surrender to the good lord/And he’ll wipe your slate clean…”

A review by MTV noted that the video intensifies that feeling brilliantly by anchoring it to racial injustice and the resilient spirit of black lives.

The video features glimpses into a candlelight vigil and speaks to the resiliency of the city’s black communities, a Rolling Stone magazine review noted.

“The river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption,” Bridges said. “My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience.

“It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle,” he said. “I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn’t see a road out of my reality and the only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river.

“I want this video to be a message of light,” Bridges said. “I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.”

As he prepares to attend the 59th annual Grammy Awards, Bridges said he continues to work on his followup album and has one wish.

“I’m hoping that me and Miles will work together more, because he took such a tasteful approach, which was definitely something I needed,” Bridges said.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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