When Euclid Gray was growing up in Chicago, the only boy out of five siblings, singing was his way of escaping the pressure to join gangs and other rough influences in his neighborhood.
He spent so much time at church singing and playing the drums and in the school choir and at local talent contests that he was known as "the guy that sang, the church boy."
"It's still my escape," said Gray.
But it wasn't until he met his wife ten years ago that he realized the power of song when she asked him to sing for her after a lakeside date.
"And I sang to her," Gray said. "I wasn't singing to entertain her. I was singing because she asked and I wanted to do something as a gift, to let her know how much I cared. And at that moment, I realized singing is not just to entertain but it's a tool to express yourself."
The 38-year-old Covington resident's vocal abilities have taken him on a remarkable journey through the secular and gospel music worlds, both entertaining and expressing himself.
From 1996 to 1999, he was part of the platinum-selling R&B group, Public Announcement, started by R. Kelly.
The group enjoyed success, appearing on BET and MTV and sharing venues with R. Kelly and Brian McKnight, and Gray even co-wrote a hit song. But the lifestyle that came with that secular success, from groupies to partying to lying to maintain a certain image, began to weigh heavily on Gray.
"My convictions and faith didn't match up with the lifestyle and the group," he said. "It was taking a toll on my marriage. I didn't like looking at myself in the mirror."
The decision to leave came after Gray was rushed to the hospital with an irregular heartbeat while on tour.
"I was scared," he said. "I thought, 'Man, if I die, I'm not ready. I let you down, Lord.'"
After he left, things started going downhill. He ran into financially difficulties. People who he had thought were friends disappeared. Singing was all he'd ever known and he didn't know what else to do.
During this time, his wife encouraged him. "You can still sing for the Lord," she pointed out.
Gray began writing about his experiences in songs and independently recorded a contemporary gospel album, "Father Guide Me." Producers started asking him to sing their work. Slowly, doors began opening up for him.
He was asked to perform in plays, even though he had never acted before. Tyler Perry caught his performance in a play called "Rise" and cast Gray as a preacher in "Meet the Browns."
After touring nationally with "Meet the Browns," where he managed to sell more than 10,000 copies of his album, Gray was signed onto the soul, blues, and gospel music label, Malaco. Wal-Mart recently decided to carry his album.
Though he's been getting more exposure lately, he's still waiting for that to come through in results.
"I don't know what's next," he said. "I just want to be a light. But the struggle is so hard."
But, he said, "God is taking care of us."
Gray and his family moved from Marietta to Covington a year and a half ago, for a better, more family-oriented standard of living.
He praises the Newton County School System where his daughter Miranda, 9, is thriving at West Newton Elementary.
He's also active in the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Choir where he feels he's learning a lot and getting strengthened.
"Since we've been here, we just love the area," he said. "There's so much support and love in Covington. If it's God's will, we'll stay in Covington."