July 26, 1940 - December 6, 2011
The genre-spanning singer known for hits like "The 'In' Crowd
" and "Drift Away
" was born in Texas to sharecroppers. His birth name has been cited as both Lawrence Darrow Brown and Leonard Victor Ainsworth.
With the help of Sonny Bono, he signed to Stripe Records, an independent label that suggested he change his name to Dobie Gray to capitalize on the success of the '60s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
He was also an actor who enjoyed a two-and-a-half year run in the Los Angeles production of the popular musical Hair.
His sound shifted to country in the mid-'70s with albums like Loving Arms and Hey, Dixie, but according to Gray, his label MCA "didn't know where to place a black guy in country music." In the following decade, he signed with Capitol Records as a country artist and had a minor hit on the country chart at #35 with "That's One To Grow On."
After he relocated to Nashville, Gray wrote songs for a slew of artists, including George Jones, Charley Pride, John Denver, Don Williams, and Ray Charles.
He died of complications from a cancer surgery in Nashville, Tennessee, at age 71.