Andrae Crouch, often described as the “father of modern gospel music,” died Thursday in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack last week, according to news reports. Crouch has been hospitalized in recent years for a variety of health issues, including diabetes and cancer.
“Today my twin brother, womb-mate and best friend went home to be with the Lord,” his twin sister, Sandra Couch, said in statement via the Los Angeles Times. “Please keep me, my family and our church family in your prayers. I tried to keep him here but God loved him best.”
Crouch won seven Grammy awards during his career and is credited with blending traditional black gospel music with R&B, pop and Christian music. Crouch led choirs that appeared on massive pop hits such as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” He received an Academy Award nomination for his compositions for “The Color Purple,” and his music can be heard in “The Lion King” musical, too.
His achievements were all the more remarkable his dyslexia made it impossible for him to read music. The notes would look upside down, he said. “I memorized everything through sight, the shape of the word,” Crouch 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,” he continued. “You have to press on and know your calling. That’s what I’ve been doing for all my life. I just went forward.”
Writing for Christianity Today, Robert Darden, former gospel editor of Billboard, elaborated on what made Crouch such a prolific force:
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.
“His music, simple and direct, many times has the soothing melodies of a pop song rather than a hymn,” Washington Post critic Hollie West wrote of the young Crouch in 1977.
“It also can be fervent and raucous in the style of current disco music. His music is generations and cultural styles apart-from traditional gospel. Crouch is a personality – not a musical stylist,” West wrote of Crouch, saying the singer provided “a neutral blend of pop, rock and gospel. Even his reassuring lyrics convey a bland mixture of love, salvation and the second coming.”
West noted that Crouch tailored his performances differently for black and white audiences. “I phrase things a little bit differently,” Crouch explained. “I may even sing Jesus differently. For blacks I put a little more emphasis on the first syllable. With my people I want to scream and get down.”
Crouch and his twin sister were pastors of the New Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando, Calif. Their parents founded Christ Memorial Church in Pacoima, a Los Angeles suburb. Crouch and Sandra took over after losing both parents and a brother within months of each other in 1994. They renamed their parents’ church after Crouch made his sister a co-pastor at a time when it was verboten to ordain women in the Church of God in Christ.
Crouch started his music career before he was in his teens. He told Decision, the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, that his mother bought him a cardboard keyboard when he was 11, and he taught himself to play piano by accompanying the choir at a church where his father used to preach — all improvisation. He composed “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” or simply “The Blood,” when he was just 14. It’s now considered a standard. In 1965, he formed Andraé Crouch and the Disciples.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said the most segregated hour in Christian America was 11 a.m. Sunday morning. Crouch’s talent transcended that. His songs could be found in the hymn books of white and black churches alike. Paul Simon recorded “Jesus is the Answer,” a Crouch composition, on his album “Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’.” Elvis recorded “I’ve Got Confidence,” also by Crouch, for his 1972 gospel album. Like Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland, Crouch was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Here’s Crouch singing “Take Me Back”:
A rousing rendition of “The Blood” from Crouch’s church choir:
And the backing choir to “Like A Prayer”:
Crouch’s fans and contemporaries offered their tributes on social media:
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) January 9, 2015
Thoughts and prayers go to Andrae Crouch and his family. He was such an inspiration — Judith Hill (@Judith_Hill) January 9, 2015
— Dulé Hill (@DuleHill) January 9, 2015
I grew up with my family blasting Andrae Crouch on Sunday. It’s sad but glad we were blessed by the amazing gift he was to the world. — James David (@MrJDavid) January 9, 2015
RIP to the legendary Andrae Crouch. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.
— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) January 9, 2015