When 21-year-old Dustin Jack Wells was killed in a car accident in 2005, the loss
of this gregarious and loving personality shattered his entire family. What they
soon came to realize was how much his loss was felt by others as well, and how
many people would step up to honor Dustin’s memory.
The Dustin J. Wells Foundation was founded in 2008, and since then it has raised,
through its annual Gift of Music benefit concerts, more than a million dollars to
help many amazing nonprofits with their missions.
Dustin was a music business major at Belmont University and a musician. “It was
very clear when we were looking for ways to keep his memory alive, we were
looking for works he would have supported,” says his father, Dr. Dennis Wells, a
well-known cosmetic dentist with the Nashville Center for Aesthetic Dentistry.
“The WO Smith Community Music School was an easy decision for us and it was
a nice match up for Dustin’s interest and what he was about.” The school helps to
share the gift of music with underprivileged children in the community.
The other main beneficiary is The Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation, which
focuses on finding a cure for cancer. “We’ve been blessed to know Scott and Tracy
Hamilton for many years and we’ve just always admired Scott’s unbelievable
fortitude to rise up and really try to individually move the meter on cancer
research,” he says. “We know that Dustin would have really been proud to help
advance that work.”
Proceeds from the Dustin J. Wells Foundation also support many other charities
and organizations such as Make-A-Wish, Feed Middle Tennessee, and Hy-Lake
Being able to help others in their son’s name has been very healing, and Dr. Wells
and his wife Doris credit many people with being instrumental in helping them find
this path to healing. “One is my office manager of 25 years, Deb Ham,” he says.
“She almost single handedly gets all the organization done and makes it all happen.
“Another person who is very integral to all this is my brother Kent Wells, who has
always been very generous in getting the bands together year after year. He’s given
so much to make sure everything works out well.” Kent’s son Derek, a well-known
studio guitar player who has played on multiple number one records, also became
involved along the way. He helped put bands together and asked various artists to
join in on the cause to celebrate his cousin’s legacy.
In addition to being Dr. Wells’ brother, Kent is Dolly Parton’s long-time producer
and musical director; Dolly is also one of Dr. Wells’ patients. The famous and fun
country singer has enthusiastically taken part in the benefit concerts many times
“She is simply amazing,” says Dr. Wells. “It’s difficult to articulate how good she
has been to our family and how caring she was about the loss of our son. She had
actually met Dustin and knew him. It’s been awesome to have her on our team.”
Dolly has also been an inspiration for other artists to get involved. “When she
comes along, everybody wants to come along,” he says. “She is so humongous in
the entertainment world and so high profile that a lot of other artists will jump at
the chance to be on the same stage as her or to meet her and be a part of the show.
“She is just a wonderful friend and wonderful person and the way she has reached
out and helped us is just a small morsel of the good she does on this planet. What
you see of her in the media is pretty much the person she is. She is delightfully
brilliant, giving and loving. She has never forgotten where she came from.”
The Gift of Music benefit concerts have really developed momentum over the
years, and then COVID hit. “We were very blessed to have so many people help us
and create the Gift of Music brand,” says Dr. Wells. “Now, we’re concerned about
how we’ll keep going, but also excited to get back and continue with it. We may
choose to hold it in smaller venues or in private homes and do it on more intimate
and exclusive scales while hopefully raising the same level of resources.”
He says they want to create an experience that’s unique and are looking at next
February to introduce this new adaptation. No matter what, he, Doris and the rest
of the family are dedicated to making sure that they continue to honor Dustin’s
legacy through this wonderful foundation.
“When Dustin passed away, it was obviously so devastating that we didn’t know
what to do,” says Dr. Wells. “This foundation has been about healing for our
family. When you face that level of overwhelming grief you think there’s no way
out. But when you start recognizing and looking up and realizing that his presence
is still alive and well in so many ways, and he’s impacting the world even though
he’s gone, all of that is a source of healing.”
Other artists who have generously donated their time and talent to the
Gift of Music benefit concerts over the years:
Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Brooks & Dunn, Ronnie
Milsap, Phil Vassar and so many more mega-famous musicians.