Dobie Gray, 69, the smooth balladeer who recorded the timeless hit "Drift Away" in 1973, died in his sleep at his Nashville home Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

He wrote songs for an array of country and pop performers, was a trailblazing entertainer in South Africa, and, in death, a philanthropist. His silky tenor was heard on other hits, including "The In Crowd" in 1965 and "Loving Arms" in 1973.

"He had such a unique style, so identifiable," said Bud Reneau, Mr. Gray's friend and songwriting partner.

"Drift Away" also was recorded by rap artist Uncle Kracker in 2003 and became a hit again.

Mr. Gray toured extensively in Europe, Australia, and Africa, and insisted on performing for integrated audiences in South Africa, according to his website. After that declaration, he became especially popular in South Africa.

He wrote songs recorded by Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Etta James, Three Dog Night, Julio Iglesias, John Denver, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette. Mr. Gray sang on several movie soundtracks including Uptown Saturday Night, Out of Sight, and Casey's Shadow.

 Reneau said Mr. Gray willed much of his property and future earnings to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. "He was a giver," Reneau said. - AP