Reached by phone at the hospital in late January, singer Dre Peace pictured himself stepping up to the podium to collect his first Grammy Award in front of an ecstatic audience, prepared speech folded carefully in his hands.
“I want a Grammy. I want all of them. For some people, [awards] are not the end all be all. But for me, I’m doing it for my family and for the Recording Academy,” Peace said, and laughed. “If I died and was never nominated, I missed the mark. And I don’t think I’m going to miss the mark. And that’s not me being boastful, I fucking believe it. I believe it, dude.”
It shouldn’t surprise to hear Peace talk about his award-laden future with such confidence. The singer was practically birthed on the stage, debuting in his church choir at age 5 and landing an agency deal and a contract with Disney at 10 years old. This led to an appearance on Broadway, where he portrayed young Simba in “The Lion King.” He then spent nearly a decade honing his stage show in the Tryangles before stepping out as a solo performer, resetting his focus on those long-held Grammy goals.
First, however, Peace needs to wrap recording on his long-in-the-works debut album. And that means he needs to get out of the hospital, where he’s been since late December as he started dialysis for his failing kidneys – the most recent symptom in an ongoing battle with aplastic anemia, a disease in which the body fails to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers, and which doctors first diagnosed the singer with in 2020.
“I was eating well, I was way more active, and I was right on top of my bone marrow medications,” said Peace, who was told by doctors he will require a kidney transplant. (The singer has an A+ blood type, and those who qualify and have an interest in becoming a living donor can visit here to learn more.) “I don’t mean to be cheesy and all astrology-based, but I’m a Sagittarius, man. I’m a control freak. And I don’t have any control over this part, and I do need help. I was suffering at home alone, and I didn’t want anybody to see me at my low point. But it got to a place where I had to be public with it. … And there’s been an overwhelming amount of support, especially here in Columbus. … I’ve had people reach out to me like, ‘Bro, I will give you my lung and my kidney.’”
Micshon Harper, who first met Peace a decade ago and currently works as the musician’s manager, described Peace as a perpetual optimist and someone who was initially loath to let the larger audience in on his physical suffering.
“He’s such a bright, positive light for folks. And he doesn’t show the amount of pain he’s in with the aplastic anemia, and the way it affects his bones, or how his joints are in pain and always inflamed,” Harper said. “Folks would never know, because he gets onstage and burns the space down every single time. With the health scare this time around, though, he’s kind of let the cat out of the bag. … It’s a heavy road, but I think having the community wrap its arms around him will certainly go a long way in helping him to push forward here. Because it is a physical burden, and it is a mental burden, and it’s something I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
This community embrace has most recently taken the form of a benefit concert scheduled to take place in Peace’s honor at Natalie’s Grandview on Saturday, Feb. 10, and featuring performances from Starlit Ways, Qamil Wright, Eric Clemens, and the Soulutions Band, among many others. Additionally, friends have established a GoFundMe to help Peace with mounting medical bills and various living costs accrued in the time he is out of work.
Singer Talisha Holmes, who will co-host the benefit show alongside Paisha Thomas and Jamalia Jackson, met Peace in Dayton nearly a decade ago but only became close with him following his 2020 diagnosis, the two bonding over shared health issues. “I said he’s probably going to start hearing from people offering him lavender oil and lemon wedges, saying they’re going to cure his ailment,” said Holmes, who has an autoimmune disorder and served as a needed sounding board as Peace adjusted to new realities in the wake of his diagnosis. “Getting closer, it was just me helping him navigate through this thing, which can be so much bigger than you.”
Holmes described Peace as “the light,” hailing his humor, his boundless energy and deep-seated passion for music that seems to emanate from the core of his very being. Holmes said Peace is liable to break out in song at almost any time, injecting his own style into a staggering array of covers and originals.
“The way he does his runs and melismas, and the way he will even reinvent something on the spot, it’s so bold, so brave,” she said. “There’s music constantly happening in him, and he’s just turning the dial, tuning in. And sometimes he’ll be in the pocket, where this is the song but it’s just in another key. But the thing I love is hearing him reinvent a song, where it’s like, I never would have thought to take that note there. I never would have thought to sing that note, and the next one, and the next one. To where it all starts to feel so impossible.”
Peace attributed this quality, in part, to his eclectic tastes, recalling how he grew up listening to Radiohead, Bjork, Herbie Hancock, Regina Spektor and gospel singer Daryl Coley, among countless others. “And when I got older, I realized I didn’t have to be pigeonholed by genre,” he said. “I like all this shit, so I can sing all this shit.”
But translating this idea to an album has proven to be more of a challenge for Peace, who said he’s been working on his solo record for nearly eight years, stalled time and again by the idea that his debut needs to serve as a definitive artistic statement, which has led to countless rewrites and dozens of discarded songs. “I’ll record something and think it’s awesome, and then a couple of years pass and maybe I don’t like the way the guitar sounds anymore,” Peace said. “Or maybe I was just in a different space then. And maybe I still like the song, but it just doesn’t feel like me now.”
Recently, however, Peace said he has come to a different way of thinking, his attitude shifting amid the health issues that began to surface again in late October and an accompanying realization that nothing is promised.
Initially, Peace said, he tried to navigate the onset of nausea and exhaustion on his own, finally reaching for outside help when his illness led him to cancel shows. “When you can’t get out of bed, and you can’t write a song because you’re sitting in vomit, you can’t fake it anymore,” he said.
And yet, Peace continues to tackle his recovery with the same tireless, incandescent spirit he carries into every performance, determined to ensure this current crisis will register as little more than a footnote in a larger novel still being composed.
“I don’t want this shit to be my defining thing, like, ‘Oh, he was the kidney guy,’” Peace said. “I’m not going to be the guy who used to sing. I don’t want that. You hate for something bad to happen to finally get your shit together, but I haven’t looked at my music the same way since. I have to finish my album now, because you never know what’s going to happen. I’m grateful for every minute.”