A boy about ten years old was called up to the front of the church. Dutifully he walked up to the preacher, his father. His daddy laid hands on him and commissioned him before the whole congregation for a new responsibility. Through prayer the preacher man proclaimed his boy as being anointed for service to God as a musician. Andrae would be the song leader for Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando, California. A decade of living under his belt, he was given authority in his church family.
His father knew the boy had talent. The commissioning didn’t come out of nowhere. Andrae had been singing and playing the piano long before this altar call. He changed keys effortlessly to harmonize with his people, not the other way around. He was self-taught. His father anointed Andrae Crouch as the church musician because he saw God’s hand upon him. Andrae did not disappoint!
Andrae’s father founded Christ Memorial Church in 1951. Andrae’s mom was very involved in the ministry as well. Born on July 1, 1942, Andrae spent his whole life alongside his twin sister, Sandra. The two of them formed a band in the early 60’s called Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. In an interview years later Andrae said, “I know what I’m supposed to say in a particular song. I don’t know the order to the song. I don’t know if it should be, the end should be on a high note or a low note or something mellow. When I’m going to record it, God gives me the interpretation of the song and how to deliver it. And when I feel it that way, and it touches me, then I feel like it would touch somebody else.” He could have no idea how true his inclinations would be about his own musical appeal. When he was in high school he wrote the song, The Blood will Never Lose its Power. There was no looking back for Andrae. His passion for music and the acclaim of others led him on a non-stop journey as a singer/songwriter.
Long before there was an understanding of dyslexia, Andrae lived that reality. He developed his own sort of sign language, using drawn pictures if he couldn’t recognize the word. Andrae told the Associated Press in 2011, “Some things that I write, you’ll see a page with cartoon pictures or a drawing of a car—like a Ford—or a flag. I still do it on an occasion when a word is strange to me…So when I finish a song, I thank God for bringing me through. You have to press on and know your calling. That’s what I’ve been doing for all my life. I just went forward.” Rather than viewing his disability as an impediment to his success, he saw it as an asset. He said, “If I was sharp in every area, I might be too big-headed or something.” Turning barrier into blessing would become part of his trademark.
Bridging the Gap
Andrae started writing music in the tumultuous 60’s. New styles of music shocked an older generation but became the background rhythm by which a younger generation made their moves. Andrae utilized pop writing techniques and paired words of faith with those upbeat melodies. He bridged the gap between sacred and secular unlike any musician before him was able to do. His love of jazz and black gospel music stretched traditional hymnody beyond the acceptable bounds of the 1950’s American Church. He didn’t have an agenda—he had a style and he used it to give expression to his faith. In an article in the Baptist Press from January of 2015, the journalist wrote, “Crouch could craft an innovative melody and heartfelt lyric while unabashedly proclaiming the Gospel in his songs—man’s sin; God’s love and faithfulness; Jesus’ death, resurrection and imminent return. Crouch’s songs were transparent and honest about the struggles of the Christian life, yet full of hope.”
His unique blending of traditional Black Gospel sounds with other music genres formed a bridge between white and black churches. It inspired people from evangelical congregations to mainline Protestant churches to belt out his music. He is understood to be the author of Contemporary Christian music that took off in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was criticized for diluting Christian music with contemporary musical traits. The appeal to this new form of church music wasn’t fully appreciated as Andrae started composing. Unfazed, he continued to churn out new hymns that had repetitive word patterns that drew people in. Surrounding himself with other musicians, including his sister, they combined a melody line and words–words simply about life’s experiences or taken directly from scripture–and they would riff on that. “Let the church say amen” is one example of that. In this video clip we see Andrae sitting at his piano, friends standing around him, as he explained how that simple line came to him. The limited lyrics allowed other musicians to jump in, adding their own voices to it. The result was a moment of worship that brings me to (joyful) tears every time I hear it.
The song that would launch Andrae’s career as a globally-recognized musician was My Tribute. When he was 18 he felt God calling him to serve in the Los Angeles Center of Teen Challenge founded by David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade. On his first day of work he met Larry Reed, newly released from San Quentin Prison. Initially Larry had no interest in Andrae’s faith and stuck to his convictions of being an atheist. But Andrae’s music spoke to him and, over time, he became a Christian. One day Larry called Andrae up. He said, “I had a dream about you the other night. I dreamed that you were going to write a song that is going to go around the world. It will be the biggest song you ever wrote, to this day.” Taking the man’s words seriously, Andrae asked what he needed to do. Larry directed him to John, chapter 17. We call this section of John’s Gospel Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In that passage Andrae read Jesus’ words: “Father, I have glorified Thee, now glorify me.”
The next morning Andrae found himself singing, “To God be the glory.” He wondered where those words came from. He went to the piano and within ten minutes had written the hymn we love, “My Tribute.” Andrae hosted dinner guests that evening in his home. As was his custom, they gathered around his piano and sang together for about an hour. They sang his new hymn. Andrae told his guests about Larry’s prediction that he would write a song that would travel across the globe. One of the guests was incredulous when she learned that the song they had been singing was written that same morning. She insisted that My Tribute must be the very song of Larry’s dream. Andrae couldn’t imagine that his testimony of faith, put into song that morning, would have a wide appeal. So the dinner guests reviewed the passage from John 17 together: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Excitedly, Andrae realized that it’s all about glory: “To God be the glory…for the things He has done.”
“My Tribute” became a signature piece for Andrae who toured in Europe, Africa and the Far East to sing his Christian music. Not only did he bridge the gap between white and black congregations; between traditional hymnody and new contemporary music. Andrae’s musical talent was so appealing that he was sought out by secular artists. He helped Michael Jackson write the song, The Man in the Mirror. He became the Producer/Arranger for Madonna’s Like a Prayer. His choir sang the background vocals to her hit. Artists like Elton John, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Elvis and Paul Simon sang his music. He had a long relationship with the Oslo Gospel Choir, bringing his mix of black gospel, jazz and traditional hymnody to Norwegians! He won 9 Grammys, an Academy Award and Dove Awards for his compositions. At Michael Jackson’s memorial service in 2009 Andrae sang his song, Soon and Very Soon to a packed out congregation in the Staple’s Center. He is one of very few gospel musicians who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1998. In her article in the Baptist Press (Andrae Crouch kindled ‘new dimension’ of worship by Laura Erlanson, 1/9/15), Laura Erlandson quotes Christian rapper, D. A. Horton: “The impact Crouch had on my life and ministry is deeply meaningful. Andrae broke ground for ethnic minorities in mainstream evangelicalism and popular American culture. His methods will be missed, but the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he so boldly preached remains.”
I remember hearing an interview with Andrae years ago. His words planted the seed in my heart of one day leading a service devoted to the musical imprint he left for us. He talked about the time that his parents and older brother died, all three in just over a year’s time. Lost in sorrow, he stopped writing music. After a time he had an encounter with God who asked Andrae, “Praise Me.” Andrae railed at God for taking his parents away from him. God persisted, “Praise Me.” Undaunted, Andrae continued his diatribe against the God he assumed was responsible for the tremendous losses he had sustained. God’s response was steady: “Praise Me. Praise Me, Andrae.” Finally, as he let out his anger at God, Andrae collapsed and wept. He allowed God to comfort him then the music started welling up again. Andrae’s music was an expression of what he was feeling at any given moment. He battled four different forms of cancer, the disease that claimed his family members. He lived with diabetes and was hospitalized for complications of the disease. Toward the end of his life he struggled with congestive heart failure. In an interview, Andrae spoke about his song, Through it All. In talking about his bandmates he said, “We’ve been through a lot of things together. We’re not just up here hooping and hollering. But we know the Messiah and we’re always praying. When this song was given to me I didn’t really know how much I was going to have to use it. And I still don’t know how much more I’m going to have to use it. But I’m ready. I just want to be at the place that where God takes me, I want just to be there, to go through it, to be able to say ‘yes’ in every situation and not to complain but just to go through. And we all gotta do that because he don’t have any favorite persons.”
Crouch’s December 2014 tour had to be postponed due to pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Just a month later, he died on January 8, 2015 at the age of 72. Michael W. Smith told Billboard Magazine: “I’ll never forget hearing Andrae for the first time. It was like someone had opened a whole new world of possibilities for me musically. I don’t think there is anyone who inspired me more, growing up, than Andrae 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.
Patricia Stuart offered her praise on his obituary page: “I was 14 years old when I began listening to Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. I was blown away by his music because no other music reached my heart the way his music did. I ran out and bought his albums with my allowance and continued to buy his music. To this day, his music touches my heart and I can’t stop listening to it. He was a musical genius who gave you an honest part of himself and a glimpse of God in all of his music.”
Our congregations’ musicians and I talked with each other about what a gift it was to immerse ourselves in Andrae’s music. We shaped a joyful worship service in which we honored his legacy. I awakened to find his music in my head. His lyrics spoke to my heart. I wept at times, moved by the way he and his band poured out their faith in repetitive lines that affirm our faith in Jesus. I am thankful for a boy named Andrae who accepted the calling his father placed upon him to rise up and lead his congregation in song. He did it then and has been doing it ever since! To God be the glory!