UPDATE 27/09/22 Dante Bowe has been dropped by Maverick City. Find out more here
Ahead of his UK debut at Big Church Day Out, the trailblazing worship leader and fashion model talks to us about breaking boundaries, hearing from God and why he’s ‘traumatised’ by the thought of being a Christian celebrity
Most worship leaders don’t post a modelling comp card, complete with chest measurements and shoe size, on the homepage of their website. But Dante Bowe is not your average Christian musician. With his distinctive raspy vocals gracing hits such as Bethel Music’s ‘Champion’ and Maverick City Music’s Grammy award winning Old church basement, Bowe’s star is on the ascent.
As well as playing a major role in two of the biggest worship collectives in North America, he has just released his second solo album, received five nominations at this year’s Grammy Awards and was hand-picked by Tommy Hilfiger to walk the runway at this year’s New York Fashion Week charity show.
The success the 29-year-old enjoys today is a long way from the relative poverty of his childhood, when he had to navigate sexual abuse from a church elder on top of a period of homelessness. Given that his parents dealt drugs in order to make ends meet while also encouraging him to attend church every week, the nature of his upbringing could appear contradictory. But his love for his mother and father is evident. “I’d want them to raise America!” he tells me when we speak, crediting them for believing in his dream to make it as a singer even before he believed in himself.
He speaks candidly about the pressure he felt in the early days of his career to sing with a more “white sounding voice”. In a Christian music scene dominated by “skinny jeans and Chelsea boots” and still largely “void of brown people”, it’s thanks to Bowe and his Maverick crew that a new generation of worshipers is finally being exposed to cross-genre sounds and songs. In his own words, its music made by “real people, from a real place”.
His Instagram feed, which features pictures of the bespoke Dolce & Gabbana suit he wore to collect his Grammy award, looks starry. But when we speak, he is refreshingly self-deprecating and overwhelmingly confident in what he sees as his God-given call. When I ask whether he feels any inner conflict between worship and fashion, his answer is unequivocal: God is creative, and so we are too. He finds joy in posing and performing, and wants to be a Christian witness in the music and fashion industries. “I would rather do what I feel the Lord has put in me than sacrifice the blessing because of what other people think,” he says.
Did you always believe in Jesus or was there a moment when you committed your life to God?
Honestly, I’ve always believed in God. I’ve never doubted him, although I probably doubted whether he would come through for me on some stuff! I had an encounter at 16 years old, in my room, where I was listening to worship and I fell on my face, cried and got filled with the Holy Spirit. I consider that to be my moment. I always believed, but that was my first emotional experience of God. That’s what caused me to do more primarily Christian music. Before, I was more into R&B, but that day is when I started doing more Christian music – not because I wanted to be more Christian, but because that was what my life became.
YOU CAN LOOK COOL AND STILL BE A WORSHIPER
I’ve read that your parents dealt drugs when you were young, but you also speak really warmly of them. Could you tell us about that?
I didn’t find out until I was 16 that my parents were drug dealers. They did it to give me and my brother a better life. Like a lot of black parents, they didn’t have the education, family connections, or even the inspo to go to school or be a businessman. My grandfather was the first in our family to own a house – that was a big dream for a black man in the 60s. And it was difficult. He had to get one of his friends, a white man, to put it in his name! We didn’t really talk about it all that much, but at 16 years old, I knew because my parents decided to stop when I got saved. My mum sold everything we’d bought with drug money. That’s when my TV was taken to the pawn shop and we moved back to our old neighbourhood with my grandparents.
I went to church every Sunday. I had everything I wanted. People have places that they come from and they make decisions because they come from those places. More people should talk about it in the Church, to let other kids know that if you are in that position, you can make something of yourself. You’re not going to go down the same path as your parents. You can come from a weird place and make something great.
I’ve never been on a worship leader’s website where the first thing I see is chest measurements and shoe size. Is modelling a side hustle, or just another part of your life?
Honestly, it’s just an outlet for me. I love fashion. I enjoy it. It’s so void of [Christians], I guess I couldn’t stay away from it. I think being a part of fashion is going to change how we perceive that stuff, because I know that sometimes people are looked down upon. It’s seen as shameful or vain…
What would you say to people who say fashion is shallow or just about money, and as a Christian, you shouldn’t be involved in it?
Nothing’s just about the money! I think that’s one of the misconceptions. [Whether you’re a music] artist or a fashion designer, before we made money, we were doing it, and that’s why we make money. God made us little creators. Sometimes we limit ourselves, thinking that Jesus is this black-and-white God who’s sitting on high, judging everything, being mean. Really, he’s the ultimate creator. He said: “Let there be light”, and there was. Wow!
THERE WAS SUCH A VOID OF BROWN PEOPLE IN MAINSTREAM WORSHIP – THAT’S NOT A SECRET
Abraham was going to sacrifice his son for God – that’s the first time ‘worship’ was used in scripture: they asked him where he was going, and he said: “I and the boy will go over there and worship” (Genesis 22:5, ESV). But really, he was going to sacrifice Isaac. Obviously he didn’t have to do it, but the point is, obedience “is better than sacrifice”(1 Samuel 15:22). I would rather do what I feel the Lord has put in me, rather than sacrifice the blessing, favour and calling because of what other people think.
Some people think when you get success, you change; your morals go down because you have more. But I’ve been in Walmart and the checkout lady is arrogant and rude. Forget being in an industry. When you’re trying to be a good daughter or a good husband, trying to live a life that’s pleasing to God without getting road rage, without having a fit over something you shouldn’t, without being lustful and jealous and envious…It’s a sacrifice to give your life to God. It’s like reciting my vows every day: “I choose you today. Again.” Being a model, or not being a model…just trying to be a good husband is hard!
Maverick City are one of the biggest worship collectives around at the moment – what is it that makes you so successful?
I think we’re real people. We come from a real place. And there was such a void of brown people in mainstream worship – that’s not a secret. It’s fun to be a part of something that’s trailblazing because I’m sure, in the future, there’ll be so many, right?
Our upbringing, which is more urban, more Southern, more black gospel, brings a new vibe to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). I think people are finding themselves in it, especially young kids who look up to Nicki Minaj or Cardi B. We’re like that breath of fresh air for them. It’s like: OK, you can look cool and still be a worshiper.
At the beginning of my career, I tried to do the white-sounding voice. The radio people said: “Can you sing this without any rasp?” A lot of times, when [people would say]: “That’s not going to work,” what they were saying was: “You being black is not going to work.” It’s cool that the Lord didn’t feel the need to package me in a different way. I’m not changing the exterior person. If I want to wear a big T-shirt and jeans, I’m going to do that. At first, it was the skinny jeans and the Chelsea boots…[laughs] I just don’t wear stuff like that.
The things that I’ve faced growing up – molestation, parents being drug dealers – my makeup has everything to do with what I’ve gone through and everything to do with my music now, what you hear in my songs. I didn’t really see myself being famous for being a Christian! That’s scary to me still today. I don’t want to be famous for being a Christian! I mean that’s horrifying…traumatising.
What is it that frightens you, specifically? Is it the expectation, or the Christian celebrity culture more widely?
Yeah, because what is that? People say there’s only one God – there’s only one that we look to, only his life is worthy – and then they will turn around and idolise me – and they don’t even know it.
Because it’s in human form, and we can see it and feel it and touch it, it’s like: “Oh my gosh, Chandler [Moore]! So cool! Kari Jobe!” As an ambassador for the kingdom, I’m going to let people know: “I am not the Lord. I am Dante Bowe.” I fart. I wake up in the morning and sometimes I brush my teeth and sometimes I just go out. No one’s worthy of a pedestal. It’s only God who can heal and save and restore. People are cool to be inspired by but not to idolise, as if they’re incapable of flaw. So being famous for being a Christian is ridiculous. We’re all just trying to live a life that’s pleasing to him.
Do you have people speaking into your life who help make sure you don’t get too caught up in all that celebrity culture stuff?
My grandmother’s a boss! This morning I posted on Instagram about how I like to wake up to a bright room but that maybe I should leave the [blinds] down, because I don’t want the neighbours to see my bottom when I go use the restroom….My grandmother texted me: “Too. Much. Information.”
I have people in my life that are not well known, and don’t have a lot, who tell me constantly: “No, you shouldn’t do that,” or: “Don’t listen to that person. That’s not real.” They’re on the outside of everything, and I think that’s the healthiest way. They see properly. They’re like: “Dude, that’s weird. I don’t care what you say,” or: “That’s cool.”
My best friend, Seb, was on tour with me and we were walking out of the arena. I was in front of him, but I stopped for him to open the door. He says: “Bro! You must be getting too famous or something, because I am not opening that door for you!” And I’m like: “Oh, my bad. [Laughs.] I’m so used to people opening the door for me, I didn’t even recognise that!” So even in the small things, my friends are like: “Oh relax! You were in front of me. You open the door for me!”
To hear the full interview listen to Premier Christian Radio at 8pm on Saturday 7 May or download ‘The Profile’ podcast
This article was first published in our festivals-themed May print issue. Subscribe now to receive the print issue for just £1.
Dante Bowe will be performing at Big Church Day Out in West Sussex on 3-4 June. Book tickets at bigchurchdayout.com