Dobie Gray, the soulful singer best known for the 1973 hit “Drift Away,” did much more than get lost in the beat and free his soul. He was a humanitarian who stood up for racial justice and left his assets to charity. Now, "Streets of Fire," a song he co-wrote 25 years ago, will benefit the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Gray, who died of cancer in 2011, was never married and had no children. In his will, he left the future earnings from his songs to St. Jude and the Tennessee School for the Blind, where he sang carols to the kids each Christmas.
Gray wanted to support St. Jude founder Danny Thomas’ vision that no child would be refused care based on a family’s race, religion or ability to pay.
“He was a lover of kids and he had cancer himself, so he believed in what St. Jude is doing – that no kid is left behind,” said Gray’s longtime writing partner George "Bud" Reneau, 82.
In recent weeks, as people around the world took to the streets to protest systemic racism, the images and scenes in the news played out like the lyrics of the song Gray co-wrote 25 years ago. In June, the Dobie Gray Trust digitally released “Streets of Fire,” in which Gray pleads for non-violence, equality and love.
“Dobie passed in 2011 and we have not yet experienced such social upheaval and a need for spiritual guidance,” Reneau said.
The song, which sprang from Gray's experiences as an artist during apartheid in South Africa, describes the civil unrest, with flames of anger burning and sirens blaring in the night. Gray calls on everyone to put aside blame, embrace love and come together to create change.
The Dobie Gray Trust said the song was performed at the Mandela Gala in Johannesburg, where Gray was given a medal for breaking the color barrier.
Included as a liner note on the vinyl that first debuted the song, Gray said, “‘Streets of Fire’ is dedicated to every man, woman and child in the sincere hope that we all come to the final realization that only Love will begin the healing that can lead us to Peace in the World for all mankind."
In today’s age of digital streaming, each of the songs Gray performed, or wrote for other artists, has a digital fingerprint. As those songs are played – either through an advertising-based service like YouTube or a subscription based one like Spotify – the Dobie Gray Trust receives a percentage of the profit. A portion of the revenue generated benefits St. Jude.
“The revenue from that streaming that’s collected will go back to the children of St. Jude,” said Dobie Gray Trust managing director Thomas Essa. “That’s why we are saying, ‘donate by streaming’ – just by listening you are doing good.”