Kelly Bowling started singing full time when she was 17 years old—and she hasn’t stopped since
A few things have changed, though, since her career launch 24 years ago. She went from singing full time with her siblings in The Crabb Family to leading her own group, The Bowling Family. Now, as all three of her daughters have begun to sing with her full time, she’s watching with pride as they walk in her footsteps.
What’s it like to see your daughters take the stage? Kelly Bowling recently sat down with Answers in Genesis for an exclusive interview to respond that question. She shared what it’s been like to transition from daughter to mother while on the Southern Gospel platform. Find out what she’s learned along the way.
(The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
I still tour with my family about once a year and do the Crabb Tour—I still love that. One of my favorite things to do every year is just to be with them and sing with them. We spent many years traveling and singing and I’m so proud of my heritage. I think they’re just the best family ever. I mean, who doesn’t think their family’s the best, right?
But I just have so many great memories. My first two kids were born when I was still singing with them, so they spent a little bit of time on that bus as toddlers. So I’m just very blessed with that heritage.
That’s right! My girls sing with that sibling harmony. I don’t know what it is exactly, but God did something special when He made siblings sing together. And I get it because I sang with my siblings, so it’s very neat to watch my girls do it.
I used to see our parents be so proud when we sang. My mom would cry! And I would think, Why does she always cry when we sing? And now I’m the mom, and I’m so proud and I’m the one crying, so I get it now! It’s very rewarding.
As far as on stage all the time, the two younger ones are still kind of come-and-go, but they’re up there most of the time now. The oldest, Hope, who’s 21 now, she started singing the alto part … when she was 13, so she’s been singing full time since then. Now, she’s 21, and the other two [Katelanne, 17, and Gracie, 14] have just recently stepped up to the plate. They’ve always done a song or two—maybe three or four—but just this year, they’ve stepped up and they’re a big part of what we do now. So that’s fun and exciting, and they’re growing.
It’s really neat. I kind of know what my daughters are experiencing, to [be singing on stage] and the excitement that comes with that. But I’m also hopefully able to give them advice that makes sense. I try to give them good, solid advice.
There’s a part to it where you have to stay out of their way and let them sort of become what they’re meant to be, because you want them to be what God has called them to be. And your prayer and your hope is that they go far beyond what you ever did and reach more people than you ever reached, that they walk in so much blessing that it exceeds your dreams for them and even their dreams. So hopefully I’ve given them the right routes and a bit of a push in the right direction.
They did something a few months ago on Facebook Live with a church. It was a TV show they hosted online, and they were guests. They had the full band, and it was a really cool experience for them. But while they were rehearsing, I purposely stayed on the bus because I didn’t want to be in there. They’re certainly talented enough; they don’t need me. But even more so, I wanted them to experience this on their own and not have their mom standing over them saying, “You need to do this or that.” But I got to go in and watch them in the live performance, and I just sat there and cried because I was so proud.
So I think there’s a fine line of guiding them and giving them direction but then also saying, “OK, but you’re 17, 14, and 21—you’re totally capable of figuring things out, too.”
It’s hard because you just want to fix things for your kids because you love them. It’s kind of like with God—sometimes He fixes things for us so easily. And then sometimes He makes us walk through things because He wants us to learn the lesson.
I’m always going to protect my daughters from anything. I’ll shield them from certain things, but musically, when I see that they’ve got talent—and I’m tip-toeing around this because I don’t want to brag—I want to say, “You’re way better than I was at your age. If I had your talent, I wouldn’t know what to do with it!”
So I see the gifts are there, and I’m just hoping that I’m teaching them the discipline that the gift deserves. When you’re called to something, you have to respect the platform that’s been given to you and honor that with the way you live your life—those are the two things I worry the most about and probably try to stress the most. I say, “You’ve been given a gift; protect it. And you’ve been given a platform; respect it. Because if you’re going to get up there, there’s a respect you have to have. People are looking up to you and pastors are trusting you.”
The Crabb Family always pushed the boundaries a little, so I don’t worry about any of that. I just want them to be the people that God has called them to be.
The Bible says, “To whom much is given, much is required” (see Luke 12:48). So I just try to tell them, “Look, God has blessed you with a gift, and sometimes you’ll be in situations where you’ll be judged more quickly than the person next to you. And it won’t always be fair. But you have to learn to let it go.”
I was about 25 before I said, “You know what? I’m going to stop caring so much what people say.” I wish I had thought that at 18 because I spent many years really worrying about people’s opinions too much. If you’re good with God, and God’s good with you, then you know you’re OK. As long as you know, “I’m going to please God and I’m going to be kind.”
So I say to them, “It’s not always going to be fair, and people are going to judge you because they’re watching you. But when God has given you the platform, that’s just part of the platform, so use it well. It’s not about you anyway. It’s about God.”
Yes! We’ll all be there, and then we have another guy who plays keyboard and sings with us. We enjoy having a lot of young people. We really want to see young people out there singing the gospel and being proud to sing the gospel.
First of all, I just have to say that we’re so excited to be there! We’ve always wanted to go [to the Ark Encounter] and we haven’t gotten to visit yet. So when the event was booked, we were super excited!
Beyond that, I’m always hoping to just encourage people with the message of the gospel. We want to reach people who aren’t saved and people who need the Lord. If there’s ever been a day we need to be reaching people, this is it.
And for those who already know God and are there to enjoy the Gospel music, of course I hope they enjoy the music. But I really hope they leave happier, more encouraged, and with more peace than when they walked in. I hope they leave believing that God is who He says He is because of what they heard.
I just want to remind people that God is who He says He is. His promises are true. His Word is true. We have to remind ourselves of that sometimes. And what a wonderful job I have where I get to remind people of that every week!
Come see The Bowling Family perform live at the Ark Encounter! Visit 40daysofgospelmusic.com to purchase your tickets and learn more information.