Will Gray blends funk, smooth jazz

Union alumnus Will Gray performs to a packed house at Barefoots Joe in February 2009 as part of the Black History Month program. Gray will be returning for another performance in Barefoots, Feb. 18. | Photo by Jordan Buie

By Katlyn Moncada

Musical artist Will Gray returned to Union with artist Reva Williams to perform the first concert of the spring semester at Barefoots Joe on Feb. 18.

Gray, a Union alumnus, performs a creative mixture of music that he calls “Urban Americana.” However, his music means more to him than a genre. Gray is a storyteller.

Gray said his desire to become a singer was inspired from his childhood.

“My music is really a direct reflection of who I am,” Gray said, “how and where I was raised.”

Born in New York City, he grew up listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book.” After Gray moved to rural Tennessee, he realized that there was not a big difference between the music of the diverse areas. Instead of being on the edge of country or folk, Gray said he believes in a broader definition of “Americana.” He said he thinks the genre comes from deeper roots that were created in America, such as jazz, blues and hip-hop.

“My music is a mixture of all these textures,” Gray said. “It’s more about storytelling, rather than the musical genre. The texture of music helps communicate the story.”

Williams, lead singer of the band Gretel, has been a friend to Gray for almost a decade. They work well together on stage telling stories through their music.

“We become the adjectives to each other’s nouns; the adverbs to each other’s adjectives,” Gray said. “We continue to enhance and enrich the experience.”

Williams plays the banjo with Gray when they perform live. Gray said he likes the energy she brings to the stage.

Gray has recently produced a new documentary called “Broke.” In the film, he follows the lives and stories of artists within the music industry. However, Gray said the film is not just about music, but about people. The film took Gray approximately two years to complete.

“The vision was simply to tell the truth — let the cameras run and see what happened,” Gray said. “I set out to discover if what I was so desperately trying to attain even existed, and what I found has changed my life forever.”

Students can view his new film at Barefoots Joe on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., followed by a Q-and-A session with Gray.

Joy Moore, director of student programs, has seen Gray and Williams live before and spoke highly about their authenticity.

“Marrying these genres gives us, the audience, an experience of complete pleasure and surprise,” Moore said. “Yet it does something deeper. It pulls together audiences of different genres and histories of genres, and gives us an utterly unified harmony.”

Moore encourages students who have not heard Gray and Gretel to attend the concert.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.