On the stage of Waco Hall, I was worried that the world was about to come to an end way too soon and I just wasn’t ready. In 1972, I saw—for the first time—Andrae Crouch and the Disciples performing “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” “Soon and Very Soon,” “My Tribute,” “Through It All,” and “Bless His Holy Name.” I was both mesmerized and a little frightened.
I had been a fan of black gospel music since childhood. But as a freshman at Baylor University, I knew that this was something different. I just knew. And it was something different for Jesus Rock (the term “contemporary Christian music” or CCM wasn’t in wide usage back then).
Crouch was an innovator, a path-finder, a precursor in an industry noted for its conservative, often derivative approach to popular music. He combined gospel and rock, flavored it with jazz and calypso as the mood struck him and the song called for it, and is even one of the founders of what is now called “praise and worship” music. He took risks with his art and was very, very funky when he wanted to be. Tonight he died at age 72 from complications from Saturday's heart attack.
Amy Grant may have made CCM popular; Andrae made it sound great.
Naturally, years later, when I became gospel music editor for Billboard magazine, one of my first columns was on Crouch. When I wrote People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music, Andrae was featured in his own chapter (along with Alex Bradford and James Cleveland).
When Michael Jackson or Madonna or Quincy Jones needed a gospel song or a gospel chorus, they called Andrae. That’s his music on the soundtrack to The Color Purple (where he earned an Oscar nomination), the Broadway musical The Lion King, and the pop songs “Man in the Middle” and “Like a Prayer.”
Not surprisingly, great swathes of the religious audience voiced their displeasure. How dare he combine Saturday night with Sunday morning? As he told interviewers, the criticism from the church sometimes hurt, but he soldiered on.
Then again, we’ve never been shy about shooting our wounded in CCM, have we?
So, with his untimely passing, what should you know about the musical legacy of Andrae Crouch? Besides the fact that he wrote the standard “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” (commonly called “The Blood”) at age 14, of course. Not to mention that his first gospel group included Billy Preston, Edna Wright (later with the Honeycombs), Gloria Jones (later a Motown songwriter), and his twin sister Sandra Crouch (who would have a wonderful gospel career as well).
And perhaps you already know that Elvis recorded one of his songs, that Paul Simon’s live show included “Jesus is the Answer” for years, and that his compositions are featured in a host of white and African American hymnals.
But what you need to know is that Andrae Crouch was musically and lyrically fearless, endlessly inventive, always searching for better ways to express the gospel in music.
Perhaps that fearlessness came from growing up in the Compton area of Los Angeles. Perhaps it came from a life spent in the Church of God in Christ, the most musically adventuresome of all Protestant denominations, which embraced electric guitars and drum kits when other denominations were splitting over whether or not to have pianos in the sanctuary. Or perhaps it came from living in the rich musical stew that was Southern California in the post-World War II years.