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Pharrell Williams has been an honest figure in the entertainment industry for decades. The Grammy-winning singer and producer is also the driving force behind Something in the Water music festival, which was first put on in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia in 2019. But he decided to take the festival elsewhere moving forward.

Pharrell Williams waving
Pharrell Williams | Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images

Pharrell Williams’ cousin Donovon Lynch was killed in Virginia Beach

In March 2021, another police shooting of an unarmed Black man took place in Virginia Beach. 25-year-old Donovan Lynch was fatally shot by a Virginia Beach Police Department officer.

Lynch just so happened to be Pharrell Williams’ cousin. In a since-deleted Instagram post after the incident, he called the shooting a “tragedy beyond measure.”

“My cousin Donovon was killed during the shootings,” he said. “He was a bright light and someone who always showed up for others. It is critical my family and the other victims’ families get the transparency, honesty, and justice they deserve. Virginia Beach is the epitome of hope and tenacity and, as a community, we will get through this and come out even stronger.”

Musician Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams | NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Pharrell Williams is moving Something in the Water because of corruption in Virginia Beach

After the debut of Something in the Water festival in 2019, the 2020 and 2021 editions were canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But he announced in September 2021 that he was not going to bring Something in the Water back to Virginia Beach in 2022 because of how the city handled the death of his cousin.

“I love the city of Virginia Beach. I’ve always loved the city of Virginia Beach and most importantly our people,” he said in a letter to Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney.

“When we did the festival, it was to ease racial tension, to unify the region, bring about economic development opportunities, and broad the horizons of the local business community. We achieved those things!” he said proudly. But he had a caveat. “I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life.”

“I love my city, but for far too long it has been run by and with toxic energy,” he continued. The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, Donovon Lynch, a citizen of Virginia, is the same toxic energy that changed the narrative around the mass murder and senseless loss of life at Building Number 2 [in 2019].”

He stated plainly that the festival wouldn’t be back until he sees major changes at every level. “Until the gatekeepers and the powers-that-be consider the citizens and the consumer base, and no longer view the idea of human rights for all as a controversial idea… I don’t have any problems with the city, but I realize the city hasn’t valued my proposed solutions, either.”

Pharrell Williams, a singer and performer, speaks during the Sony Electronics Inc. event at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
Pharrell Williams | Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

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Virginia Beach officials don’t want the festival to leave

Duhaney and other Virginia Beach city officials were upset that Williams was pulling out of the city. In September 2021, before he put his foot down and confirmed that Something in the Water wouldn’t be back, Duhaney sent him a letter begging him to consider the festival’s impact on the city and its residents.

Duhaney expressed “immense disappointment” that Williams was pulling out, and cited the economic impact that the festival had on the city — to the tune of $24 million. “Something in the Water made an enormous impact on Virginia Beach and catapulted the city into the national and international spotlight,” he said. “Positive messages of inclusivity and togetherness were heard, seen and — most importantly — felt.”

The status of Something in the Water 2022 remains up in the air.