Mark Gray

Published 9:52 am Monday, December 5, 2016

LEARNED — Mark Gray, a Vicksburg native who became an acclaimed pop and country singer and songwriter in Nashville, died Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, at his home in Lebanon, Tenn. He was 64.

Mr. Gray was the son of Dorothy and Hayden Gray of Edwards and Vicksburg, and attended Warren Central High School.

He began his career as a finalist on television’s “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” after studying piano as a child. He moved to Nashville when he was 19 years old.

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In Nashville, he sang first with the Revelations, a Christian rock band, and was spotted by the country music headliners Oak Ridge Boys, who asked Gray to join their publishing company and appear on their tours.

From there, in 1979, he joined country-rock band Exile, where he and fellow Exile member J.P. Pennington co-wrote “Take Me Down” in 1982 and “The Closer You Get” in 1983, both major hits for longtime acclaimed country music band Alabama. He also wrote “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy,” a No. 1 country hit for Janie Fricke.

Throughout his career, Gray wrote more than 100 recorded songs.

In 1981, Gray became a solo artist and released three albums with CBS, which earned him four Top Ten hits. Later in the 1980s, during a time when country music was making its debut on pop charts, Gray signed with Columbia Records, where he became known for his country-pop piano sound.

Gray also was known for his duet with fellow Mississippi native Tammy Wynette, “Sometimes When We Touch,” which reached No. 6 on country charts. The duo co-hosted the Country Music Awards in 1984.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Gray was preceded in death by his brothers, Billy Shackleford and Charles Gray; and his sister, Bonnie Shackleford.

Survivors include his wife, Janice Gray; daughter, Latoya Lackey; and son Ian Gray, all of Lebanon, Tenn.; three brothers, Austin Gray of Atlanta and Terry Gray and Dennis Gray, both of Utica; nieces and nephews.

Visitation for Mr. Gray was Sunday in Lebanon. Burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at New Salem Baptist Church, 2666 Learned Road, Learned.

His nephews will serve as pallbearers.