“Let The Church Say Amen”
Andrae’ Crouch’s Mission, Journey and Legacy
Andrae’ Crouch, long hailed as the father of modern gospel music, left a dazzling legacy that future generations of writers, arrangers and composers will doubtless strain to match.
For more than 50 years, Crouch stamped his footprints on every dimension of traditional and contemporary gospel music. Credited with “revolutionizing the sound of contemporary Christian music,” he was among the first few Blacks to “cross over” into mainstream markets and rack up a plethora of record, album and CD sales.
Crouch, only the third gospel artist awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won eight Grammy and four GMA Dove Awards, performed for royalty in several countries, at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, on The Tonight Show and in 73 nations.
With his unique ability to photograph life’s sojourn through spiritual lenses, Crouch wrote an astounding catalog of sacred songs, many of them shouts of triumph and deliverance from pain, poverty and rejection. His triumphal recordings include “Soon and Very Soon,” “My Tribute,” “Mighty Wind,” “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus”, while “The Blood,” Through It All,” “Let The Church Say Amen,” “Alleluia” and “Bless The Lord, O My Soul” evoke the silence of spiritual contemplation.
Mesmerized by “My Tribute’s” universal appeal, famous artists by the score joined the peers who preceded them in covering it. At least 600 ultimately did so. Elvis Presley and Paul Simon, recorded Crouch’s songs. As an arranger, Crouch brought new light and life to songs recorded by Madonna, Elton John and Rick Astley. Other beneficiaries of his genius were Diana Ross and master writer, arranger and composer Quincy Jones.
Among Crouch’s film credits, “Once Upon A Forest,” “The Lion King” and “Free Wily” drew rave reviews, along with his soaring score, “Maybe God’s Trying To Tell You Something,” that gave “The Color Purple” its electrifying crescendo.
Crouch’s journey in song and ministry began in early childhood, when, besieged by “dyslexia, stuttering and bullying,” according to a biographical sketch, he “found comfort in memorizing Biblical stories that provide the assurance of God’s guarantee to liberate” the suffering. At age seven, singing in the Sunshine Band of Los Angeles’ Emmanuel Church Of God In Christ, he stunned adults by adding melodies to Scriptures stored in his memory.
Not long afterward, his father, Benjamin J. Crouch, arrived at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a small congregation in Val Verdes, California and discovered that the church had no minister or musicians. Discouraged by the daunting task of building membership without music, the elder Crouch, in a prayer, pledged “to stay and pastor this church if you (God), will give my son the gift of music.” “The Lord directed me to lay hands on my son,” he said, “so that the anointing of God would be upon him to play the piano.” Two weeks later, he wrote, “Andrae’ began playing the piano.”
At 14, his son wrote “The Blood,” but, despairing that “it wasn’t good enough,” he threw the paper on which he wrote the song into a trashcan. His twin sister, Sandra, however, perceived otherwise. She pulled it out of the trash and told her brother: “this is a good song.” The Blood, Crouch’s first hit single, was the first milestone in his journey toward international acclaim.
Civil Rights leader and minister Jesse Jackson, at Crouch’s January 21 funeral at Los Angeles’ West Angeles Cathedral, praised his quiet and courageous leadership. “He fought hard, not just to change people, but to change our society. Andrae’ was not just a local or national singer, he was a transformative and historic figure who eclipsed his time and changed its course.”
Gospel Music Experts Respect the Crouch Legacy
To bring the source and inspiration for Crouch’s genius into sharper focus, Message contacted five nationally respected leaders: Dr. Margaret Doroux, the highly regarded writer/arranger and composer, Dr. Michael L. McFrazier, Associate Provost and Associate Vice-President of Prairie View A & M University, who is also an authority in African American culture, Charles M. Blake, Presiding Bishop of the Church of God In Christ, Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Los Angeles and John Phillips, 92, believed to be the world’s oldest gospel music announcer.
Blake, after pondering the source of Crouch’s inspiration, replied, “God gave Andrae’ the insights he communicated through his music. These insights were gifts given by God, so Andrae’ was already a skilled musician when I met him, although he was only 11 or 12. He didn’t learn these gifts, because they can’t be taught. Nor are they something that can be explained. God gave them to him to communicate through his music,” the bishop said quietly.
Doroux, who penned “Give Me A Clean Heart,” “If It Had Not Been For The Lord On My Side,” “He Decided To Die” and a plethora of other moving favorites, said Crouch’s writing was grounded in keen sensitivity, the basis for what she described as “his Sunday morning church songs.”
“He knew his songs had to have a church sound so church choirs could sing them. So they were always geared to the church and didn’t have to be performed, they only needed a choir, an organ and a piano. None of them needed drums, guitars or background singers. Andrae’ always asked (young writers), ‘can my grandmother sing your songs?'”
Most church pianists and organists could not read music, Doroux said, “but when they heard Crouch’s songs they were able to play them. In the back country of Louisiana, she said, “choirs were always able to sing them because they weren’t catchy, could be sung slow or fast and didn’t need instrumentation or a rhythm section.”
Man in the Mirror
McFrazier, who served Houston’s Church Without Walls as Minister of Music for 15 years, spoke to the source of Crouch’s inspiration and his gratitude for it. “Andrae’ devoted his time to cultivating his gifts. We all have gifts and are called to identify and develop them to a level of maturity to bless us and the Creator who made us.
“Andrae’ was totally focused on his gift,” McFrazier continued. “A lot of things America says represent the ideal life did not interest him, so he didn’t seek to acquire them. When you give yourself to the gifting, the other areas of your life take a back seat. Andrae’ was devoted to teaching, promoting and writing the music of God, which he used to touch the core of the human spirit, which is the moral high ground, that which is right.
“Oh yes,” McFrazier predicted, “his music will definitely live on because it is integral to worship for all churches, religious gatherings and among people who don’t even know the name Andrae’ Crouch. His music contained so many, many variations, what he was able to do with it, that it will live on, forever and ever.
McFrazier cited the Crouch song “My Tribute” as an example. “It’s used in periods of jubilation, celebration, sorrow, hurt and pain and for so many different events: weddings, grand openings and as a tribute to loved ones who’ve gone on.
“With “Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson’s hit song, Andrae’ was saying that we should look at ourselves before pointing at someone else or holding others accountable. That is an example of what set him apart, trying to move gospel outward, beyond the walls of the church and what takes place inside its walls. He knew that Christ was not confined to a church, but went to the people.”
Spiritual Relationship Is Key
First and foremost, said Thompson, “the guiding force behind Andrae’s music was a personal, venerable and vibrant relationship with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His message, through song, was birthed out of a personal experience and the observation of world occurrences. When these streams are merged into one river, we have the message and the mastery of Andrae’ Crouch.” Phillips, the KTYM Radio gospel announcer who said he has played “the music of Andrae’ Crouch since the 1960s and will continue to do so,” pointed to God as the inspiration “to get up and do something good.”