At 4 years old, Daniel Brundidge was nonverbal and his therapists were discussing ending his therapy because it wasn’t going anywhere. His mother, who has four children and three with autism, prayed that something would give. And one day, when their house in Cottage Grove was unusually quiet in the summer of 2019, something did.
Daniel started singing “Old Town Road” a fusion of country and hip hop from singer, songwriter and rapper Lil Nas X.
Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse
To the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more
Daniel’s mom Sheletta Brundidge was astonished: “My baby who can’t talk; my baby who when he broke his arm couldn’t even tell me that his arm was hurting because he couldn’t say anything,” she said. “The one we couldn’t teach his own name to; the one who couldn’t say ‘I love you, mama’. That baby walked up to me and started singing ‘Old Town Road.’”
The Lil Nas X hit was apparently the key to unlocking his voice. So the Brundidges integrated music into every part of Daniel’s life. Now 6, he’s reading at a fourth-grade level and helps his older siblings with their reading and writing.
Brundidge was inspired to write a children’s book about the experience.
But now Lil Nas X’s music video has come out for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” during which he gives the devil a lap dance, pole dances from heaven to hell and sticks it to the homophobes who criticize his music and lifestyle. And upstaged Brundidge’s book in the process.
Lil Nas X’s music video shocked Brundidge. After Daniel started talking, the family periodically called Lil Nas X, who vowed to support the child however he could.
For a Christian woman, the religious imagery was startling, but after she learned about Lil Nas X’s backstory of being rejected by the church for being gay, she recognized his pain.
“[Lil Nas X] really needs all the love and support he can get … The church is a place where you’re supposed to go to because God is all about loving us right where we are,” Brundidge said. “(But) we Christian folks drove him there by not giving him the love that he came to us seeking.”
Lil Nas X’s video, which has been viewed more than 45 million times and helped lift him to the top of Spotify charts, wasn’t his only controversy; he created 666 pairs of “Satan shoes” that contain a real drop of human blood. Nike is now suing the producer, MSCHF, for trademark infringement.
Since Brundidge’s book “Daniel Finds His Voice” is dedicated to Lil Nas X, she reached out to the four locations where she was supposed to hold events in April for the release. One has already pulled out, and she’s waiting on responses from the others. But she’s determined to get the book out no matter what, and the title is already no. 1 in new releases on Amazon.
The book, timed to Autism Awareness Month, is Brundidge’s second about her family life. The first was for her daughter with autism. She says a book about Daniel’s brother will come next year around the same time.
Brundidge wasn’t always an author. She’s made a career as a radio producer, comedian and podcast host. But one day her daughter came home from school and said, “I want white skin like my friends … because everything we read, all the books, everybody has white skin.”
Instead of being upset that there weren’t enough books about kids of color, Brundidge decided she was going to write one. She wanted to talk about the problem of Black children with autism being misdiagnosed as simply having a bad attitude and write a book for kids — instead of parents — so they could understand themselves and their friends.
“I wrote her book to change the narrative,” Brundidge said.
She gave away more copies of her first book, “Cameron Goes To School,” than she sold, and set the price as low as she could for both.
“I want to give away this book to parents and teachers, and music therapists, because for us it’s not about making money; it’s about autism awareness,” she said. And while she recognizes that some people may be wary of her book because of the dedication, she said that shouldn’t be the focus.
“This is not the Lil Nas X book. This is the Daniel Brundidge book. This is a story about a little boy who couldn’t talk, who used music to learn to communicate.”