The who’s who of US gospel music – including Stevie Wonder – gathered in Los Angeles on January 21, 2015, to farewell gospel great Andrae Crouch, who died a year ago on January 8, aged 72.
Crouch, labelled as the “father of modern gospel music”, was a seven-time Grammy award winner with huge influence in both the secular and Christian music scenes, working with artists like Michael Jackson, Elton John, Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross.
The son of a preacher, he rose to prominence during the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s with his group ‘Andrae Crouch And The Disciples’, often performing at major preachers’ crusades. He was something of a Marvin Gaye to the gospel world, with his suave attire and energetic, soulful style.
In the pop industry, Crouch was best known as the choir leader for the anthemic, gospel-style choruses of many iconic hits. These include Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror and Will You Be There, Madonna’s Like A Prayer, and Nightshift by The Commodores.
Watch: Michael Jackson performs ‘Man In The Mirror’ with Andrae Crouch’s gospel choir.
Such was Crouch’s influence that even Elvis Presley recorded one of his songs, I’ve Got Confidence, on a gospel album. Paul Simon also covered Crouch’s music, often performing Jesus Is the Answer in his live shows, and including it on a 1974 live album.
After his collaboration with Michael Jackson, Andrae and his twin sister Sandra formed an ongoing friendship with the so-called King of Pop and met with him many times to work on songs together. In those meetings, they would often pray together with Jackson.
Many Songs, Many Accolades
Crouch’s soulful music won him seven Grammy Awards between the 1970s and 90s in the contemporary soul category, and in 1998 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame.
He also worked on film scores like The Lion King and A Time to Kill, and was one of 12 composers to receive an Oscar nomination for The Color Purple soundtrack.
In an era when Christians were arguing over whether it was OK to have pianos and electric guitars in church, Andrae Crouch revolutionised the gospel sound, introducing many aspects of pop and soul music.
In Christian circles, he was best known for worship songs like The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Through It All, and Bless His Holy Name, as well as soul-style, joy-filled tracks like Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus.
Evangelist Billy Graham once labelled him “the greatest hymn writer of our age” according to The Guardian.
Humble Man Who Loved Jesus More Than Fame
Above: Andrae Crouch (left) and his twin sister Sandra, with fellow gospel artist Edwin Hawkins (famous for ‘Oh Happy Day’)
But despite his great acclaim, Crouch most wanted to be known for his joy and his love for Jesus, according to Billboard magazine, saying that he simply wanted “to be remembered as a guy that really loved God”.
“Every day we hear that somebody got saved to our music from all over the world,” he is quoted as saying. “The music reaches people. It can encourage them. I feel like I have to do it because there’s somebody out there who needs to hear the gospel.”
Christian recording artists Michael W Smith told Billboard that he still remembers hearing Andrae Crouch for the first time as a young music lover in West Virginia.
“It was like someone had opened a whole new world of possibilities for me musically,” he told Billboard after the singer’s death.
“I don’t think there is anyone who inspired me more, growing up, than Andre Crouch. The depth of his influence on Christian music is incalculable. We all owe him so much and I’ll forever be grateful for the times we got to work together.”
Called By God To A Life Of Music
Above: A historic USA Today Show report on the gospel music of Andrae Crouch.
Incredibly, Andrae Crouch was a musician solely by ear; he couldn’t read music.
According to the Independent, he was dyslexic and drew pictures to help him grasp concepts – for example when working on Jackson’s Man In The Mirror, he drew a mirror with an image in it.
“I memorised everything through sight, the shape of the word,” he said. “Some things that I write, you’ll see a page with cartoon pictures or a drawing… So when I finish a song, I thank God for bringing me through.”
Former Hope Media presenter Sheridan Voysey had the privilege of interviewing Andrae Crouch in 2001.
In their conversation, Crouch recounted the time when he realised God had gifted him with music.
He was 11 years old, shy, a stutterer and dyslexic, and his father, Benjamin Crouch, who was at the time leading a tiny church congregation of 10 people, laid his hands on Andrae and prayed that he could be a musician for the Lord.
The boy couldn’t read a note of music, and the closest he’d come to touching a piano was a cardboard toy his mother had bought him.
Within weeks, his father asked him to come to the front of his tiny church, and play. The congregation began singing the old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and the completely untaught Andrae began to play along – with both hands.
Gospel Royalty Gather To Farewell Crouch
Above: Stevie Wonder performs at Andrae Crouch’s farewell service.
Crouch died from complications after a heart attack. He never married, and had no children.
Before his death, he and his sister, Sandra, were pastors at the New Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando, Los Angeles.
Gospel artists and preachers who attended his funeral, some of them speaking and performing, included Kirk Franklin, Israel Houghton, Yolanda Adams, CeCe and BeBe Winans, Stevie Wonder, Dr. Bobby Jones and Reverend Jesse Jackson.
There were also video tributes from preachers Bishop T.D. Jakes and Kenneth Copeland, and singers Michael W. Smith, The Pointer Sisters, Bill Gaither and the Winans Family.
In a statement on the day of his death, Sandra said “today my twin brother, womb-mate and best friend went home to be with the Lord…I tried to keep him here but God loved him best.”
Above: Andrae Crouch plays a gospel medley in around 2012 for journalist and friend Boyd Matson.