Some say that the lessons of the past serve as blueprints to guide us through our own present-day journey.
Dante Bowe embodies that journey, which in just three years has taken him from homelessness to chart-topping singer and award-winning songwriter. On his sophomore album, Circles [Bethel Music], Dante tells an even bigger story. He captures what it’s like for one generation to make the sacrifices necessary to give the next generation a platform to flourish. For as much as the story represents his roots, the music does as well. He takes his love for the simmering spirit of nineties-style R&B and wraps it up with foot-stomping soul and skyscraping gospel. Most importantly, he shows eternal reverence for his family, sharing their lessons as songs.
After losing his grandfather at the top of 2020, Dante leaned on his grandmother for strength and understanding. In the midst of widespread unrest throughout America post-George Floyd, he felt the overwhelming confusion of this day and began to ask her for guidance and perspective.
Their conversations, both in-person and by phone, manifested as the bedrock inspiration for these thirteen tracks. He found comfort, even after his grandfather’s passing, in hearing stories about his family’s roots.
“I learned how I became who I am today by listening to my grandmother’s stories,” he says. “They inspired me. How my grandfather overcame his struggles as a black man in America, the first in our family to buy a house. How my grandmother became the first to graduate with a master’s degree and how she’ll be the first to retire.”
“She told me about what it was like to live through the Civil Rights movement – how people called her a terrorist for marching in the streets, and how it felt to be turned away based on the color of her skin. My grandparents endured a lot. But it made me aware of the power of family, and what it takes to build a strong one. That is what Circles is about. It’s the story of my family’s strength and perseverance. And as each generation gets better, they made me better.”
The close nature of Dante’s family also inspired his deep passion for music. Growing up in Rockingham, North Carolina, dad led him towards hip-hop, while mom introduced him to R&B. By 15-years-old, he had learned to play keyboards and started writing and recording songs of his own, developing a diverse palette of inspirations spanning everyone from Al Green and Aretha Franklin to Frank Ocean and personal favorite Lauryn Hill. Balancing a full-time career touring as a background vocalist and pastor, he never lost sight of his dream to create his own musical statement. In 2017, he unveiled his independent debut, Son of a Father impressively rising to #5 on the iTunes Top Christian & Gospel Albums Chart and #21 on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums Chart.
Everything changed when he left his job in 2018. Understanding the importance of a full-time gig, all the while dealing with burning creative insatiability, Dante knew the risks he was taking when he decided to move on from his work. But the opportunity to follow his heart proved too much to ignore. He had something to say.
“I was homeless most of 2018,” he recalls. “I spent my early twenties on the road, but I felt like, ‘Man, I should really follow my dreams and try to do [my own] music’. It was hard for me to quit and after being on the road for so long I didn’t really have a home to go back to. I ended up living on a friend’s couch in Tennessee when I got a call to perform weekly in Columbus, Georgia and because it was what I wanted to do, I made the four-hour trip there every Sunday. Eventually, I ended up moving there, into a beat-up single lot trailer home, but I was inspired. I felt like something real was going to happen and it did. My life started to change.”
He spent countless hours crafting songs in the living room of that trailer before the calls started coming in. He emerged a go-to songwriter, even cooking up the platinum selling “In Spite of Me” [feat. Ciara] for Tasha Cobbs Leonard, which garnered a Dove Award nomination. He found himself writing with the Atlanta based Maverick City Music collective and was responsible for writing the group’s biggest hit to date, “Promises,” which has amassed over 20 million streams.
And finally, in 2019, he found a home at Bethel Music. Things started to fall into place. Dante was invigorated – feverishly writing, sifting through countless ideas, even scrapping two entire projects in the process. By 2020, Dante Bowe hit his creative stride, recording the bulk of Circles in Redding, California and Dallas, Texas, and teaming up with producers Lael, S. Blake Kanicka, and Ben Schofield.
With resounding optimism, he introduces the lead single “Joyful.” Heavenly keys shimmer as his cadence flutters over a steady beat, with a full choir punctuating the joy that Dante displays in the moment. He found his groove.
“I love that music can find a way to inspire change,” says Dante. “Change within yourself and change in your narrative. That’s my goal with ‘Joyful.’ I want folks to be able to seize the moment and find happiness within that moment.”
His dynamic delivery shines on “OK” [feat. Trevor Jackson], locking into a call-and-response with Jackson before their voices entwine. The soulful track sees a man reflecting on his long yet rewarding journey, overcoming obstacles with faith and perseverance, and seeing his dreams well within his grasp.
“It was the first song that sparked the journey for this album,” says Dante. “I was going through such conflict in my life. In a moment of reflection, these lyrics started pouring out of me. They really embody how I was feeling and how far along I’ve come.”
Whether it be the minimal affirmation of “Keep Going” or resounding vocals and soft piano of the title track, “Circles,” his conviction to his family lineage takes the spotlight. The emotive “All God’s Children” culminates on another show-stopping vocal run as Dante collects the journeys of respective family members into a passionate pastiche.
In a spotlight moment on Circles, Dante speaks directly to his roots on “Family Tree.” He thanks his mom, dad, grandmother, and late grandfather for laying the groundwork for him – working through hardship, leading by example.
“Momma, you’ll be so proud of me / Look how far we’ve come” Dante sings. “For the lows, there’s highs / For the blind, there’s sight / Oh I know that things get better.”
Over strains of soft piano, his voice immediately captivates, stretching from intimate verses into a powerful crescendo over cinematic strings. He calls it “a moment of gratitude.” The circle is now complete.
“These are all literal stories about my various family members,” he states. “It gives insight into who we are and what we’ve been through.”
“I hope that by sharing myself within these songs –it can help people to understand that there’s somebody out there who’s going through the same things.
“We all have our moments of struggle and our moments of success. But family is what brings it together. I’m able to stand here today on their shoulders, and I am grateful for their experiences, which have made me a better man.”
On Circles, Dante takes stock of his present day journey to this point, giving praise and expressing gratitude to the blueprints his family left before him.