"It's not always how long one may live, but while they live, what they may give."
- Lyrics from "Departure" by Mark Gray
Songwriters are artists akin to fine arts painters. However, they dip instead into a palette of lyric and melody to cover their canvases. In the case of Grand Forks, North Dakota songwriter Mark Gray, he takes the darkest and bleakest of backgrounds and applies a poetic and poignant blend of messages and music.
His compositions shine. Mark's creative catalyst stems from his ability to capture the emotions of darkness, despair, and loss and transform them into uplifting themes. One can always find light, hope and guidance in the colorful songs of Gray.
Mark produces his works via a musical studio project he has called Tender Grace. Gray is likely the only artist who prefers that he not be the focus of this musical biography. He'd rather the story of Tender Grace center on his inspiration, Amelia Josefina Gray. However, Amelia wants her father's songs and story heard!
Mark Gray was always artistic, with a talent to paint and draw. However, he never wrote poetry or was interested in composing music. That all changed on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012, the darkest day of his life. It was on that day that Amelia Josefina Gray became an angel. She passed on after a courageous two-year battle with liver cancer. She was only eighteen years old. "It was like a bomb went off," Mark explains. He continues, "It was every parent's worst nightmare, but Amelia was undeterred through the six-hundred-eighty-two days she battled cancer.
Since that day, Amelia has worked from above and has molded her father Mark into a prolific songwriter, poet, and lyricist. While she may no longer walk among everyone on earth, Amelia is Mark Gray's instrument of inspiration. He explains, "She always had a smile on her face; I can still feel her presence daily, pushing me forward to help heal others."
Mark gives insight, "The inspirations began almost immediately after her passing, I started going through old photos of Amelia, I was so devastated, but there was an inner feeling to share her story, her courage, her message of hope." Gray took hundreds of photos of his daughter's valiant fight with cancer. She'd jokingly call him, "Mr. Paparazzi." Mark worked on a massive project to put these photos into a video and a book about her life. He continues work on her book to this day, finding it hard at times to write. "I have to set it aside at times, so it remains a work in progress," Gray explains.
It was during this time a mysterious desire to write poetic messages began within his spirit. Melodies would suddenly appear within Mark's mind. He knew it was God at work through his daughter. Mark Gray was suddenly composing musical bars of melody and lyrical lines of enlightenment. "I knew Amelia still wanted to help others, and God was calling me to be an instrument of her messages. Her work on earth was unfinished."
It is no irony that Amelia dreamed of being a physician one day to cure others. She could not rid her physical body of cancer, but through the Father in Heaven, and her father on earth, she could now heal through the bright and colorful music of Gray.
In 2016, Mark Gray officially created his studio project, Tender Grace. He began to compose the songs and melodies. Mark offers, "Amelia never wanted anyone to cry for her, to feel sorry for her suffering - it was this theme that drove the project." He decided to entitle his album, Don't Cry for Me.
The eight tracks on the album are a poignant original contemporary Christian - based songs composed by Mark Gray's Tender Grace. The first single release from Don't Cry for Me was the title track. "Don't Cry for Me" examined the positive outlook Amelia had during her illness, and how she would not want those left behind to be sad. "This song and the album were a gift for all those children - and their parents - who are fighting cancer. They are the real heroes." Offers Mark. Don't Cry for Me is receiving rave reviews, airplay and has been picked up and endorsed by the Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital. Mark Gray and his wife had donated copies of Don't Cry for Me to the project to help other parents dealing with the loss and stress of critically ill children.
Mark Gray's Tender Grace has now reached even further to help others by releasing two singles "Christmas Wish" and "Blessings, Basilio's Song" along with their album "Long Road Home" featuring twelve awesome tracks, of which were donated to the Ministries Division of the North Dakota State Penitentiary. This is something that Amelia has always held dear and that is to help others, offers Mark.
Now Mark Gray's Tender Grace is set to release their new album Enduring. The nine tracks on the album are a collection of poignant Christian/Country songs which are carefully crafted and goes even deeper to bring out the true feelings of loss and offers hope to all those in need. A few key tracks on Enduring are "Echoes of Silence", "Sweet Angel" and "Glory of Love". It must rain a little sometimes in everyone's life. There will be gray days, despair and loss. However, let God work through Amelia and Mark. There is a new brightness and hope, a new outlook on each new canvas created by the colorful songs of Gray. Let the healing begin, and share a smile with someone who needs one-this is what Amelia wants us to do.