Seven weeks ago, Christopher Varnardo was homeless on Skid Row. Today, he's a YouTube sensation.
It all came together after the 40-year-old Varnardo serenaded a filmmaker with his song "Brother Man" in June. Captured on a video that can be seen below, it has gone viral, and led to a fresh start for Varnardo.
"I was being interviewed for a [public service announcement] for Volunteers Of America," Varnardo tells us via email. "Basically, I gave my testimony and I asked if I could sing. The camera guy, Michael Greene, recorded me singing."
Greene, a documentary director, uploaded it to YouTube, and before long it had hundreds of thousands of views on sites around the internet. This led to Varnardo recording with music producer Ervine 'EP' Pope, known for his work with The Game, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West. (The pair had actually first met five years ago, when Varnardo sang for Pope at a Starbucks on La Cienega.)
"God was working through him to help me help myself and be the person I'm supposed to be," Varnardo says.
His proclivity for performing manifested decades earlier. The Jackson, Mississippi native penned his first song at eleven, and eventually earned a scholarship to Rust College, where he studied voice and sang in their choir. By 1998, however, he was selling marijuana and after school relocated to Los Angeles. Here, he began peddling and using crack, and by 2000 was homeless.
"He lost his apartment in Long Beach because he didn't pay the rent," explains Greene. "He saw an eviction notice and bounced. He slept under some stairs by the 6th Street bridge sometimes, on the sidewalks, cardboard boxes. Many nights he didn't sleep at all. [He] sold crack, robbed people, sold dewlow (fake drugs)."
Convicted for possession, he was in and out of prison for a time, and released shortly before meeting Greene. Nowadays Varnardo is clean. Greene says he will be the subject of his upcoming documentary.
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"I've been interviewing people who have known him through the good and dark times," says Greene. "At some point, we're going to document his first trip back to Jackson in six years."
It's the feel good story of the year, and it's just getting started.