“[Music] won’t save the world, but it makes the wounds, the hunger, the bombs, the racism, the prejudice, the negligence, a little easier to fight against. We are all human. We all experience the same feelings and emotions, though there may be different things that make us feel these emotions, and we may express them in different ways. Yet, this is where the music steps in… to resolve the differences.”
These words, spoken by the late Will Gray, are the inspiration behind a project called “The Will Gray Blueprint.” Gray, a 2002 Union alumnus, died from cancer on July 26, 2013. A passionate musician, Will wrote and recorded music independently in a style he described as “urban Americana.” He wrote songs for artists such as Cobra Starship and Blake Shelton and he filmed a documentary entitled “Broke*.” He signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 2011.
After her husband’s death, Angie Gray, a 2003 Union alumna, asked family and friends to donate to a project that would support other musicians in Will’s memory, instead of giving flowers or gifts. As Angie reflected on how specifically to use the money, she remembered one particular conversation with Will. He had just completed a music tour that left Angie and him in debt.
“Will said [to me], ‘If I could somehow figure out a way to mark some line items off of my budget then maybe we could break even,’” Angie said. “Will said, ‘The fact is, great art dies if it isn’t nurtured. So, we must care for our artists if we want to live in a world with a high level of art.’ These conversations shaped this project.”
Reflecting on her husband’s passion for music and his heart for serving musicians helped Angie shape the
concept of TWGB.
“I thought, ‘What if, as fans, we help mark those line items off of a tour budget? Maybe we could pay for a meal or a tank of gas or a night in a hotel. Maybe this could help artists to continue making their art,” Angie said.
TWGB, though it is still in beta testing, supports musicians by allowing fans to donate to the musicians’ such as meals, housing, flat tires, or unexpected fees. Currently TWGB’s website features artists like Jill and Kate, the Vespers, Roman Candle and The Madison Letter. Each artist’s page lists the artist’s specific needs, their tour dates and how fans can interact with them.
“The hope is to give fans a tangible way of supporting artists,” Angie said. “We hope to pull back the curtain on what it takes for an artist to tour, to actually bring their music to their fans, and then give fans a platform to act, to support artists, to help artists continue making their music.”
Angie said the project is inspired by Will’s love for people, his love of music, his belief in music’s ability to unite people as human beings and Angie’s own desire to carry on Will’s legacy.
Taylor Worley, assistant vice president for university ministries and close friend of the Grays, said that Will “displayed a rich and varied love of music” and that he was a deeply empathetic listener.
“That’s why I think [Will] valued community in the arts so much,” Worley said. “Will was convinced that his own music was part of a larger community or tradition of art that had come before him. In that spirit, he endeavored to help other artists achieve their aims and make their own contributions to the tradition they inherited.”
Angie said 85% of the money fans give goes directly to the artists, while 15% is placed in TWGB Grant Fund, which is given to artists who have larger needs. Angie is the founder of TWGB and runs the project with a small advisory board. She said her goal is to launch TWGB on a larger scale later this year.
Angie said that the Union community can support TWGP by sharing on social media and supporting the artists. Artists that are interested in signing up for TWGP can e-mail Angie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Will’s empathy and care for others will continue in the lives of those artists he befriended and mentored, championed and challenged,” Worley said. “In the end, Will’s vision of how music brings us together and reminds us of our own stories is exactly the vision we want.”