Like most young singer/songwriters Danny Gokey grew up listening to a variety of music from country to gospel and Latin to hip hop. His new album, Jesus People, released Aug. 20 via Capitol CMG, finds Gokey combining those styles into a tasty musical smorgasbord. And though the music is stylistically diverse, Gokey’s message has never been more pointed and direct.
“My writing has evolved. I’m more intentional,” Gokey tells SLN. “I guess I’ve become bolder in who I am because as an artist I’m not really swayed by opinions anymore. I used to really want to please everybody. I’m learning as I study scriptures and write music is that true love sometimes can look a little different from how our world is portrayed but in the end, it’s always focused on what’s best for other people, even at a cost of yourself.”
The Milwaukee, WI native first gained notice as a top three finalist on Season Eight of American Idol. At the urging of Idol mentor Randy Travis, Gokey signed a country deal with RCA and his debut album, My Best Days, debuted at No. 4 on the all-genre Billboard Top 200 album chart. But Gokey’s heart was really in Christian music and he had been serving as a worship leader in church for years. Thus, he made the transition to contemporary Christian music where he has enjoyed a successful career with the chart-topping albums Hope In Front of Me, Rise, Haven’t Seen It Yet, and Christmas Is Here, which won Christmas Album of the Year at the 47th Annual Dove Awards. Gokey has also earned three Grammy nominations and won the KLOVE Male Vocalist of the Year award three times.
On Jesus People, Gokey again serves up the substantive lyrics and engaging melodies that have made him so successful. His new single, “Stand in Faith,” is rapidly climbing the Christian charts. “It’s the message of God,” Gokey says of the song’s appeal. “When you’re doing the work of God, I think sometimes he clears out a path and says, ‘This is the song that people need to hear right now.’ That might sound like a bold statement, but I just sometimes do believe that God makes a way for His word. Even though I get to be a part of it, it comes from His scripture.”
Gokey also sees the song encouraging people during these troubled times. “People are so engulfed by what they see that it’s inviting fear into their life,” he says. “And faith is totally opposite. Faith says you don’t look at what you see. Faith says you walk by faith and not by sight, and that’s hope right now because what I’m seeing is pretty destructive whether it’s a sickness or a broken family or an addiction. When you are given the opportunity to say, ‘Hey let’s see it from this point of view,’ that brings home for someone to say, ‘Hey this could change,’ and all you’ve got to do is just believe in God.”
Another song with a positive message that is seeing strong streaming numbers is “He Believes in You.” “‘He Believes in You’ is something that God spoke to me some years ago and I finally wrote a song about it,” Gokey says. “Having been through a really dark time, I heard the Lord speaking my spirit, ‘I believe in you,’ and I was just shocked when I heard that in my spirit. I was like, ‘I know I’m supposed to believe in God, but he believes in us! What?’ When you sort through scriptures, the Lord really confirmed that.”
Gokey filmed a video in the Dominican Republic that drives home the message of the song. “I love the story. It’s really representative of a father,” he says of the video. “The girl is a runner. She gets hurt. She loves running. It’s her dream to run and it’s all shattered because of a car accident in the music video, but the father is the one who is in there and he’s representing God just showing his love and affirming and helping her work through this. It’s really powerful imaging.”
Gokey says the pandemic gave him more time to write for his new record and he really poured himself into these new songs. “Because we tour so much, it’s always hard to find time to fit in writing sessions and trying to create new records while you are supporting old records,” he says, “but the pandemic is really where it started, and I think a lot of artists are going to have the same story. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I started writing. It was really rewarding. One of the first songs we wrote was ‘We All Need Jesus.’”
Gokey invited Koryn Hawthorne to join him on the soulful ballad for the English rendition and enlisted Christine D’Clario for the Spanish version “Cristo Es Necesario.” He recruited Angie Rose to lend her rap skills on “Do it for Love.” “I heard about Angie Rose from my label as she’s a Capitol artist as well,” Gokey says. “When I was writing ‘Do it for Love,’ it had such a tender melody in it and these high notes. I was thinking about getting a male rapper on it. My wife listened to the demo and she said, ‘You need to get a female on that,’ and I was like, ‘You are exactly right!’ I started listening to Angie, and I was like, ‘I think she’d be great on this,’ and she crushed it. I love her part. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”
In addition to “Cristo Es Necesario,” Gokey indulges his passion for Spanish music on “Agradecido.” “It means ‘thankful’ in Spanish and if people get the chance, they need to look up the music video. I took my whole family to Puerto Rico and we recorded it there,” he says. “I remember walking into the writing session with Ethan Hulse and Colby Wedgeworth and said, ‘I want to write a song about thankfulness.’ I started out thinking about the word in Spanish and it was ‘agradecido.’ I started writing the song and I love that it came out that way. I’ve been around Spanish music my whole life. I ended up just writing that song and recording the music video. It’s a picture of my life 11 years after losing my first wife. It’s like the other side of the story.”
Gokey’s first wife, Sophia, had been his high school sweetheart. She died four weeks before he auditioned for American Idol from complications during her third surgery to treat her congenital heart disease. Gokey kept his promise to her to audition for Idol.
These days Gokey is remarried and currently lives in Nashville with his lovely wife, Leyicet and their four beautiful children— Daniel, Victoria, Gabriel, and Emanuel.
In addition to music and family, Gokey also spends time running his Better Than I Found It Foundation, and has plans to bolster the good work it does through a TV show. “I’ve been building that for some years,” he says of the foundation, “and now I’m working on a TV show that hopefully next year we’ll have a finished product. Better Than I Found It goes around finding other people who are the change makers in our world, and we tell their stories. We find what they need. We resource what they need.”
This fall he will be headlining his “Stand in Faith” Tour with fellow American Idol alum Colton Dixon. The tour kicks off Sept. 30 in Lafayette, LA and wraps Oct. 24 in Chesapeake, VA. Gokey is looking forward to sharing the new songs live. “I hope that it feeds their soul as they listen because people are in deprivation right now,” he says. “They are so hungry. I hope feeds their soul and it also just makes them want to dance. I hope it makes them feel the love of the father and gives them a different perspective on this world.”