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After one last toy drive, DeKalb songwriter Gary Mullis has died

Gary Mullis drumming at a WLUV radio picnic.
Mike Lucas
Gary Mullis drumming at the WLUV picnic, 2011

A DeKalb holiday icon has died. Songwriter and performer Gary Mullis died Monday at the age of 79. On Sunday, he held his final Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots toy drive and concert, this time at Aperion Care in DeKalb, where he was living.


Mullis made his mark this time of year with his annual toy collection and show. He never failed to perform the song he was probably best known for, “Doing the Christmas Boogie.” In 2019, he was recognized by the city of DeKalb for 50 years of organizing the toy drive. He also hosted a number of school supply drives/open mic shows in DeKalb.


Music was his passion; primarily country and gospel. He was especially proud of his induction into the lnternational VIP Songwriters Hall of Fame Museum in Alabama. He won a number of songwriting awards from the organization over the years: DeKalb-area friends sponsored his involvement with the group, which included recording some of his spoken word tributes to country singers.


Mullis’ unorthodox sound and undeniable passion for performance landed him on Irwin Chusid’s compilation album and book called “Songs in the Key of Z,”alongside other outsider artists like Wesley Willis and The Shaggs. Mullis' contribution to the album was "Recitation About Roy Acuff."


Mullis was a familiar face around DeKalb-area open mic nights and church breakfasts. Born and raised in Sycamore, he spent most of his life in DeKalb, and worked for 36 years at University Plaza. His friendships and photos with Nashville celebrities are detailed in the book he assembled called “From Farm to Hall of Fame Museum.”

A memorial service will be held at a later date, according to Finch Funeral Home.

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.