Gospel singer, composer, minister
Andrae Crouch is one of the most important innovators of contemporary gospel music. His arrange-ments and production of Christian music changed the way in which music of worship is perceived in the United States. Crouch's music embraces listeners of traditional gospel recordings and diverse others who enjoy jazz, blues, and non-traditional performances. His songs have been performed by various artists, including Paul Simon and Elvis Presley. The recipient of more than sixteen Grammy Awards, Crouch as a gospel musician, recording artist, songwriter, arranger, and producer is recognized as an international music star. His message of hope, faith and joy transcends color, class, and creed.
The Crouch family welcomed on July 1, 1942 twins whom they named Andrae Edward and Sandra. The new additions to the family made a total of three siblings which included an older brother, Benjamin. Crouch and his twin sister were born into the dedicated Christian family of Catherine Dorothea and Benjamin Jerome Crouch. Crouch's father Benjamin was a lay preacher and the owner of two dry-cleaning stores. Crouch's mother managed one of the stores and his father managed the other. Their places of business also served as an opportunity to share their faith with their customers. The family was aware of all their blessings and clearly saw one of their missions as proselytizing. They were active members of the Emmanuel Church of God and Christ, with Rev. Samuel M. Crouch, Crouch's great uncle as the pastor. The church had a congregation of more than 2,000 members. Early experiences for Crouch centered on church work and singing in a trio with his sister and brother at Sunday school.
As a lay preacher, Crouch's father would be called to churches that had need of a preacher on a short term basis. Crouch's father preached at the Macedonia Church about sixty miles from their home in Los Angeles. The entire family attended the service and heard Crouch's father preach for the first time in a real pulpit and not on the street, at a hospital, or in other created spaces. He was urged to continue on an interim basis until the church secured a full-time pastor. Crouch's father was reluctant and decided to make a bargain with the Lord. Both Sandra and Benjamin had musical talent, but Andrae was dyslexic and stuttered badly. Crouch's father promised the Lord that if his son were given the gift of music, he would become a full-time minister. Crouch's mother believed in her husband's prayer and bought a cardboard piano keyboard for Crouch to practice on. Crouch, who was eleven at the time, had no real thoughts about music other than singing, but he took to the keyboard emulating music he had heard on the radio. Crouch's father called on him to attest to his musical talents. During a service at Macedonia Church, the congregation was to sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Crouch came forward to accompany the church on the piano at his father's request. Not really sure of all the pedals and in particular the middle pedal, Crouch played for the congregation with both hands. Within two weeks Crouch's father gave up his dry-cleaning businesses and the ministry of the entire family had begun.
Music as Personal Mission and God-Given Talent
Music helped Crouch overcome shyness and stammering that often resulted in his twin sister having to speak for him. Crouch wrote his first song only three years after his experience in church playing the piano. At fourteen, he attended a Memorial Day celebration and was inspired by the words "Oh the blood" and as he began to sing he asked his friend Billy Preston, also a pianist, to play the chords to accompany him. The song "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" became the first of many inspirational songs by Crouch.
When Crouch was in junior high school, his family moved to the San Fernando Valley suburb of Pacoima. His father became the pastor of the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal church in a predominately Hispanic town. In high school, Crouch formed the group Church of God in Christ Singers (COGICS) around 1960. The members were Gloria Jones, Frankie Karl Springs, Edna Wright, Blinky Williams, Sandra Crouch, and Billy Preston. Preston later played organ for the Beatles and received acclaim for songs such as "Will You Go Round in Circles." COGICS was the first to record the song, "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power." Crouch realized that if the audience was to be blessed by the song, it must be self explanatory. The style and singing that COGICS offered was not always understood by traditional gospel audiences. Crouch was accustomed to racially diverse gatherings since his mother and father's background included both Jewish and German mixed marriages along with Afro-European marriages of grandparents and great-grandparents. As a member of a Youth for Christ group, headed by a young white man from the Nazarene Church, Crouch saw the need for an easily understood message to all groups. All of these influences encouraged Crouch to write songs clearly so that the gospel would be understood. Crouch's split-compositional style moved between and blended light rock, soul, and pop, combined with traditional hymns and anthems.
After high school Crouch attended Valley Junior College in San Fernando, California and pursued religious studies at Life Bible Institute in Los Angeles. He worked in the community and counseled recovering drug addicts, but music was in his heart. In 1965 Crouch founded Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, which became the vehicle for his compositions for over twenty years. After signing with Light Records in 1971, their debut album Take the Message Everywhere was released. It featured original compositions and arrangements that would mark the Crouch sound. The album included arrangements of the Negro spiritual "Wade in the Water"; Thomas Dorsey's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; and the hymn "No, Not One!" The split composition style absorbed a broad spectrum of musical forms and instruments and blurred the gospel traditions of arrangement, composition, and performance.
- Born in Los Angeles, California on July 1
- Begins playing for church service at eleven years of age
- Begins composing songs at fourteen
- Forms the group, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples
- Signs with Light Records and releases debut album with group, Take the Message Everywhere
- Begins solo career with LP release Just Andrae
- Receives first of sixteen Grammy Awards with his group the Disciples for Take Me Back
- Releases album Don't Give Up on mainstream label
- Receives Oscar nomination for the score of the film The Color Purple
- Mother, father and older brother Benjamin die
- Becomes pastor of Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, Pacoima, California
- Receives star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Crouch and the Disciples recorded and traveled extensively. Appearances included The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, performance at the Hollywood Bowl, and sell out crowds at Carnegie Hall. The group even performed on the NBC television show Saturday Night Live in 1980, which continued to break new ground regarding audiences. The group's performances were key in pushing the boundaries as they included pop-style vocal arrangement, crooned vocals unlike the intense gospel style, and production techniques associated more with R&B. Musicians on their recordings included Sherman Andrus, Perry Morgan, Billy Thedford, Sandra Crouch, Ruben Fernandez, Tramaine Hawkins, Danniebelle Hall, Paula Clarin and Phyllis Swisher. Crouch's solo career began in 1972 with the LP Just Andrae. Under the Light label, Crouch as a soloist recorded six albums, and as lead singer of the Disciples recorded twelve. Crouch and the Disciples took home Grammy Awards in 1975 for "Take Me Back," 1978 for "Live in London," 1979 for "I'll Be Thinking of You," 1980 for "The Lord's Prayer," 1981 for "Don't Give Up," and 1984 for "No Time to Lose." There were numerous other awards, such as the Dove Awards which were given to both Crouch and the Disciples.
The sound that Crouch brought to contemporary worship in the United States reached beyond the African American traditional base and incorporated the Jesus Movement from 1969 through 1979. This movement, which came out of a counterculture in the Haight-Asbury district in San Francisco, sought a more Christian-centered life for all young Americans. The group believed that, weighted down by the Vietnam War, the death of three astronauts in an explosion, and increasing unrest by African Americans, Christian belief demanded a life that centered on the teachings of Jesus and personal relations with an emphasis on discipleship, evangelism, and Bible study. This phenomenon, which began slowly as folk music with more accessible lyrics relating to the Gospel, had a lasting effect on contemporary worship. Crouch and the Disciples offered a form of praise and worship that gave support to this movement.
Despite Crouch's success, he was criticized by some gospel purists. Many felt that his inclusion of secular elements diluted the religious content. The greatest outcry came with the 1981 release of the song "Don't Give Up." It competed with secular markets and used up-to-date technology regarding production techniques and topical lyrics. Even though the song was released by Warner Brothers label, Crouch continued to record songs for Light label that remained gospel-oriented. In 1982 more difficulties arose as Crouch was arrested on cocaine possession charges. He maintained that the substance found was instant chicken soup powder. No formal charges were ever filed by the police, but the experience took its toll on Crouch. He decided to reestablish his priorities and focus more on his family and church and produce projects with other artists.
From 1984 to 1994, Crouch took a hiatus from recording. He composed and arranged for other artists, such as Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, and Elton John. His film credits include Once Upon a Forest, The Color Purple, The Lion King, and Free Willy. He also appeared as the television voice of Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle. Crouch received an Oscar nomination in 1986 for his score for the film The Color Purple. In 1994, he released the album Mercy! as inspired by the words "Mercy, have mercy on us." His message remained consistent in keeping the word of God in the music, but he enhanced the songs with a global flavor, featuring a mix of reggae and African rhythms. Crouch also was presented the McDonald's Gospelfest Golden Circle Lifetime Achievement Award and an award from the international Association of African American Music. To give honor to Crouch's contribution to gospel music, the top names in gospel and contemporary Christian music spent two years making a tribute to him. Released in 1996 the album was titled Tribute: The Songs of Andrae Crouch.
In the wake of his refocused life Crouch met with tragedies and the realization of a calling. Crouch's mother Catherine was the first of three immediate family members to die over a three-year period. In 1992, at the age of 72, she died of cancer. The following year, December 1993, Crouch's father Benjamin died at 76 of liver cancer. His death placed Crouch's brother Benjamin as the pastor of their father's church, Christ Memorial in Pacoima. His brother Benjamin served for five months as the church pastor, before he died at the age of 53. Crouch knew that his becoming pastor of the church was a calling his father had revealed to him. His cavalier response to this as he told People Weekly was, "Daddy, you'll be here forever because that's one thing I won't do!" Crouch's father told him again before he died, he should have three black suits ready at all times because he wanted his son to be ready. Crouch still resisted. Even with his sister's help the congregation was unsuccessful in finding a new pastor. After resisting the idea for a while, in April 1995 Crouch began preaching at the church and was later elevated to pastor. The congregation, who had dropped off in attendance after the death of Crouch's father, regained its membership and continued to grow.
Crouch's performances consistently sold out throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the Far East, and his music was translated into twenty-one languages. His timeless classics place him firmly in musical history. Crouch is one of only three gospel artists to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is in the company of Mahalia Jackson and Reverend James Cleveland. Crouch received his star on the Walk of Fame in 2004 surrounded by his sister, nephew, and aunt. His personal and evangelical ministry took him from show business to the pastor of his father's church in Pacoima. He continues his love of music and composes during his six o'clock morning prayers every day. As a sixteen-time Grammy winner and music innovator, Crouch has set a high level of musical expression.
Benson, Alvin K. "Crouch, Andrae." In The African American Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Ed. Michael W. Williams. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2001.
Manheim, James M. "Andrae Crouch." In Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 27. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2001.
Monroe, Steve. "Mercy." American Vision 9 (August-September 1994): 48.
Rogers, Patrick, and Karen Brailsford. "In His Father's House: Gospelstar Andrae Crouch Comes Home to Lead His Family's Church." People Weekly 44 (23 October 1995): 103.
Ramsey, Guthrie P., Jr. "Andre Crouch." International Dictionary of Black Composers. http://www.cbmr.org/pubs/crouch.htm (Accessed 15 January 2006).
Terry, Lindsay. "It started on a Keyboard Made of Paper." The Communicator. http://www.cbmr.org/pubs/crouch.htm (Accessed 15 January 2006).
Lean'tin L. Bracks