In the beginning. A big family: two brothers and four sisters (Charles, Daniel, Angela, Janell, Gina, and Tracey). The fifth of these siblings, Daniel Jay Gokey, entered the mix on April 24, 1980 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Only the Lord knew where He would take this baby. Saturated in music, the family sang in his Grandfather’s church where Danny grew up. Despite singing all of his life, it was not until age 12, after an offhand comment from his father to his mother about how well he could sing, that Gokey realized he actually had a good voice. Danny recalls being shocked by his Dad’s comment, but from that point on something settled in his heart about using that gift. He went on to serve as worship leader of Faith Builders International Ministries during his mid-twenties, traveling between two campuses each week to lead. Ultimately, however, Gokey realized that serving through worship was the foundation, but not the calling on his life. Soulful Christian Pop has become his mainstay signature. Along with the soulful music is the testimony of life-wrenching times with stronger, better times seeping then soaring through.
In the moment. The power of music can provide purpose and direction, especially in the most trying times; that power has shaped Danny Gokey’s life and driven his career. Probably few people more deeply understand music’s power to feed the soul than Gokey. He learned to channel the inspiration he found through his music and his faith to make a difference in people’s lives, including his own. He has learned to ask God to “keep me in the moment. I want to honor people by living in the moment. I desire to move the flesh out of the way to love.”
On May 15, 2004, Gokey married his high school sweetheart, Sophia Martinez. Asking Danny to audition for American Idol was her repeated request. She had long been a fan and persuaded Danny to watch and consider auditioning. Sophia was born with a congenital heart condition but for years the couple had no indication that her first surgery in infancy and second surgery at age seven were leading to a huge crash and burn. Then, in their early years of marriage came the random and extremely accelerated heart beats. On July 9, 2008, four weeks before Gokey auditioned for American Idol, Sophia died from complications during the third procedure to treat her congenital heart disease, a routine surgery that was considered to be ninety-percent successful. Sophia was in the fateful ten-percent. Wanting to respect Sophia’s desire for him to audition, yet falling apart emotionally during the process, Danny honored the commitment, ultimately finishing in the top three.
In the grief. Music sustained him following Sophia’s death, and after the world discovered his talent on American Idol, propelled him up the charts. For his first album, Gokey gained a nomination for Best New or Breakthrough Artist at the first annual American Country Awards. Even after her death, Sophia influenced her husband to honor his God-given talent through ministry and music: Danny founded Sophia’s Heart in her honor to help provide resources and shelter for homeless families. This later became Better Than I Found It, a nonprofit established to support and encourage other organizations who are committed to making a difference in their own communities. He affirms that “friends and family have helped set up a scaffold so that real ministry can take place; they have rallied around me and encouraged me when there wasn’t a lot [already] established.” Gokey adds that “ministry can easily take over your whole body . . . such that you don’t see how it’s affecting your family. Ministry requires daily discipline.” It’s all about choice.
In the aftermath. Three-time Grammy Nominee, three-time K-LOVE Male Vocalist of the Year, two-time Dove Award winner, and eight-time Dove Award nominee, Danny Gokey has become a favorite of millions of fans. He released his first album, My Best Days, which debuted at number four on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Among many others, he has released such notables as 2014’s Hope in Front of Me (which was inspired by his book, Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments), award-winning holiday album, Christmas Is Here and 2019’s The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Collection, his second collection of seasonal music. “The Prayer,” his signature duet with Natalie Grant, was released as a single in 2018. Gokey has celebrated a series of number one singles, and reached the top of Billboard’s Christian chart again with Rise, his fifth full-length studio album in 2017, in 2019 with Haven’t Seen It Yet and 2021 with Jesus People. Singles “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” and “Haven’t Seen It Yet” have both been RIAA Certified Gold. Danny has engraved his place on the radio charts with multi-week, multi-chart topping runs in the United States, Canada, and now Latin markets with his Spanish singles and hits in Latin America, including 2016’s album La Esperanza Frente a Mi. It all comes down to “Love God, Love People,” just like Danny’s most recent number one, and first spoken by Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:38-39).
With multiple awards, number one album debuts and number one singles, Gokey is excited about continuing to share hope and encouragement with his listeners. He has reached a sweet season in his music career and life. The climb, however, has been riddled with heartache and those things that most people—the church included—rarely speak of publicly, if at all. Cycles of depression have plagued him but have also provided opportunity for God to sing through him in true ministry. Danny has wanted to mix hope and entertainment in a way that would truly make an impact on hurting souls.
In the experience. One recent testimony of hope drawn from his music comes through the quiet words of a young woman: “Danny Gokey is a true missionary. I thank him again for walking God’s path with confidence and wisdom.” She sent a special message to Danny, saying: “I am forever indebted to [you] for [your] song and video ‘Rise,’ which saved my life and countless others, like ‘Tell Your Heart to Beat Again.’” Despite chart successes, what better tribute could a songster receive than those words of life and healing—genuine appreciation and empathy through God-given music as God’s conduit.
In the next chapter. Several years after Sophia’s passing, Gokey met and married Leyicet Peralta, a model, at a church in Miami, Florida. They currently live outside of Nashville with their four fabulous, rambunctious children: Daniel, Victoria, Gabriel, and Emanuel. Fans can get to know more about them and their family life, goals, and perspectives through their podcast, Livin’ la Vida Gokey. You can watch the videos on AccessMore, or listen wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Because of busy schedules and time on the road, Danny cherishes every moment he gets at home with his family. He knows how precious is every moment, and how life can change in the twinkling of an eye.
In the whole. A particular verse from God’s Word has directed Gokey’s life: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). Danny explains, “It is the believing that makes me abound in joy and peace of the Holy spirit—believing in the right things, believing in what God says.”
Danny concludes with urgent words of wisdom for Birmingham Christian Family Magazine readers: “The greatest words resounding in my heart right now are that Jesus is coming again soon; we need to be more about keeping that at the forefront of our minds so that daily decisions are based on bringing people into the Kingdom of God because life is full of distractions. The Bible makes it very clear that when He comes, people will be eating, drinking, marrying . . . going about their regular lives. . . . Life will look very normal just as it did to the people in Noah’s day. ‘People were unaware’ until the day Noah entered the ark and ‘until the flood came and swept them all away. So will be the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:38-40).
You “just haven’t seen it yet,” echoes one of Gokey’s latest songs. Keep your eyes open for the good things that are coming!
–Sheila E. Moss: author of Living to Matter: Mothers, Singles, and the Weary and Broken; Interrupting Women: Ten Conversations with Jesus; and international publications from teaching Bible and Christian ethics in Africa, Ukraine, and Venezuela; teacher of Bible classes for over 35 years; mother of three daughters and two sons; and grandmother of eleven grandchildren.
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