Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
Salvation through the blood of Jesus was more important to Andraé than his seven Grammies.
Few gospel artists have worked with personalities of the stature of Michael Jackson or Madonna. This, however, was one of the claims of Andraé Crouch, who died from a heart attack on 8 January, aged 72. He was the author of many of the songs that are sung in churches today and he collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross and Ringo Starr. In the seventies, Elvis Presley recorded one of his songs, “I’ve got confidence”, and Paul Simon performed “Jesus Is The Answer” in his concerts. So how did he become so influential?
According to his biography, “Through It All” (1974), Andraé was born in Compton, Los Angeles, in 1942 – although many websites say that he was born in San Francisco–. He has a twin sister, Sandra, who won a Grammy in the 1980s, having played the tambourine for many Motowns recordings at the beginning of the 1970s. His parents owned a dry cleaning business and a restaurant in Los Angeles, but they also preached on the street and visited hospitals and prisons to share the gospel. In 1951, they founded the Christ Memorial Church in a garage in the San Fernando Valley.
When Crouch was 11, his father was invited to preach at a church on a number of occasions. As the church did not have any musical accompaniment, they encouraged Andraé to play the piano. At the age of 14, he wrote his famous song “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”, which he recorded in 1969 with the choir of the Church of God in Christ, which he attended. Another member of this Pentecostal church choir, known as the Church of God In Christ Singers, was piano player Billy Preston, who went on to work with the Beatles and with the future Motown star, Gloria Jones.
In the middle of the 1970s, he set up his own band, Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, with whom he recorded his first album in 1969. At a time when no one was talking about “contemporary Christian music”, Crouch started to be known in the circles of the Jesus Movement, a youth movement which attracted many hippies to Christianity at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. The music of that “Jesus Revolution” was sometimes called “Jesus Rock”, but Andraé always stuck to gospel music.
At the end of the 1950s, drugs began to be a serious problem in New York. In 1958, a Pentecostal pastor of the Assemblies of God, David Wilkerson, saw a photograph in Life magazine of seven adolescents convicted of murder. Moved to compassion, he went to the Big Apple and started up the Teen Challenge organisation as a result of the conversion of Nicky Cruz, a gangster of Puerto Rican origins. After leaving college, Crouch went on to work for this rehabilitation programme, setting up an Addicts Choir. Cruz wrote the prologue to his biography.
Ironically, he himself had problems with drugs and was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1982. Although the charge was dropped – at first he claimed that it was chicken stock powder, but then said that it belonged to a friend who had been at his apartment –, his reputation as a gospel artist was severely tarnished.
In 1991, Billy Preston, a member of his church choir, was also found to have problems with cocaine. This came out in police evidence taken when he was arrested for insurance fraud after setting fire to his house. That same year he was also arrested for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Mexican boy, although he never publicly admitted to being homosexual. Despite his attempts at rehabilitation, he died in 2006 of pericarditis, as a result of his drug use. His funeral was held at the Faithful Central Bible Church of Inglewood, California.
When the Disciples broke up in 1978, Andraé continued his solo career. His songs were strongly influenced by pop, soul and funk, although they are clearly still gospel. They contain clear bible-based evangelical messages, alongside confessions of his weaknesses and failings. I believe that this combination is what makes Crouch great. He was not seeking self-aggrandizement, but the exaltation of the glory of God, who revealed his grace to him through the power of the cross.
In My Tribute (1972) he sings: “How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me; the voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude. All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee. To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” Going on to affirm the salvation of Jesus through his blood shed on Calvary.
That was more important to Andraé than his seven Grammies or the Oscar for the music of Spielberg’s film, “The Color Purple” (1985). Crouch directed choirs for Michael Jackson (Man In The Mirror, 1988), Madonna (Like A Prayer) and for the music of Disney’s “The Lion King” (1994). He has had a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2004, but what he really wanted was to share his hope in the sacrifice of the Lamb, who cleanses us of all our sins.
When his parents died in 1995, Crouch became the pastor of the church which they founded in Pocaima, California. There he taught and preached, while producing five more albums. Two weeks before the death of Michael Jackson, Andraé spoke to him of his faith in Christ, after which they prayed together. This may explain why Jacko asked that Crouch’s song “Soon, Very Soon” be played at his funeral:
“Soon and very soon/ We are going to see the King/ Hallelujah/ No more crying there/ Should there be any rivers we must cross/ Should there be any mountains we must climb/ God will supply all the strength that we need/ Give us strength till we reach the other side/ We have come from every nation/ God has already signed our name/ Jesus took his blood and he washed my sins/ He washed them all away/ Hallelujah!/ We are going to see the King!”