KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As a young boy, Brandon McCray learned to play a variety of instruments but found success with the saxophone, which he taught himself.
"Played around with the keys, learned about the fingerings and he would hear it and he would go back and play it," Jarius Jones, Brandon McCray's youngest brother, said.
Jones said McCray devoted his talents toward his faith, becoming a gospel saxophonist and minister who recorded six albums.
The KCK native also shared his passion with students as a music teacher earning his doctorate degree in saxophone performance in 2015 from University of Kansas.
"And you can also see just the way he caresses that saxophone, how much in love he is, with the music that he's playing and with the message that he's sending," Jones said.
Last March, McCray traveled to Louisiana before attending a church conference in KCK that would be among the first COVID-19 hotspots in the Kansas City area.
One week later, McCray was in the hospital.
"[He] was struggl[ing] breathing, could not talk, he had a fever, he had body aches," Jones said. "There was even some delirium because he was not sounding like himself."
Doctors put McCray on a ventilator. There were signs of progress before he suffered a stroke and his kidneys failed.
On April 19, he died as his family said goodnight to him via Zoom.
"A great big brother, I don't know if you're going to be around tomorrow, or when I wake up, but I said, just know I thank you for being who you were to me. Thank you for loving me," Jones said.
McCray was 52 years old.
Two weeks ago, Jones received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I felt like I owed getting a vaccine to my brother and to those half a million people who have gone on as a result of this dreaded virus," Jones said.
And he shared the following advice for other families who have also lost loved ones – "Don't focus on the disease itself, as being what took their loved one out of this world, but focus on the fact that they conquered life."