Andraé Crouch: ‘I pursued writing what I felt was coming out of my heart.’
‘I Just Want The Lord To Use Me 'Til I Die’
Still On His Journey, Andraé Crouch Celebrates his 52nd Year In Gospel Music With A Grammy-Nominated Album
Since his debut in 1960 with the Church of God in Christ Singers (a group that included Billy Preston among its members), Andraé Crouch has collected eight Grammys. He also helped pioneer the burgeoning "Jesus Music" of the 1960s and ‘70s from which evolved contemporary Christian music, which began to bridge the gap between black and white Christian music. Though sometimes criticized for diluting the Gospel message by using contemporary styles, his songs have become staples in churches all around the world and recorded by mainstream artists such as Elvis Presley and Paul Simon.
Crouch is also credited with revolutionizing the sound of urban Gospel music. He was instrumental in bringing Walter and Tramaine Hawkins, Jessy Dixon and The Winans to Light Records. His influence has extended to countless artists such as BeBe and CeCe Winans, The Clark Sisters, Wintley Phipps, Anointed and Israel Houghton. He and his choir The Disciples sang background for Madonna's song "Like a Prayer" and he arranged the music for the 1985 film The Color Purple and for Disney's The Lion King in 1994.
The 69-year-old Crouch’s 18th solo album, The Journey, features Chaka Khan, Shelia E., Take 6, Kim Burrell and Marvin Winans. It’s his first release since 2006’s Mighty Wind, which won a Dove Award for traditional gospel album of the year. Unsurprisingly,The Journey has received a Grammy nomination for best gospel album.
The young Andraé: ‘People didn't believe it was a gospel song at one time because the message wasn't just talking about dying and going to Heaven, but I would talk about what was on my heart. And I would say what I wanted to say in a different way,’ he says of his early, groundbreaking songs.
The Journey debuted at #6 on Billboard's Gospel charts. It boasts a diverse range of styles including traditional Gospel, contemporary, urban, classical, ragtime, southern, international and hymns. Make no mistake, Crouch still captivates audiences young and old with his timeless music.
The gospel legend's songwriting is more than a mere musical exercise. "I write just knowing that I enjoy writing. But if I have to write it seems like nothing comes. But when I go there for my own pleasure the Lord might just give me loads of stuff all at once," he says. "When I write a song I do better not thinking that I have to do it. I just sit down at the piano and take it from there."
An early riser who’s up at 6:30 a.m. each morning, he starts his day with an hour of prayer. In these intimate moments, songs often reveal themselves. "I would imagine that most of my writing is done spontaneously. I have no intention of writing and then I'll just walk through the house and hear this melody, turn on the tape player and go back to it later on. Some days as many as three to five songs come to me."
From The Journey, ‘Let The Church Say Amen’
Describing Crouch as prolific is an understatement. He has more than 1700 songs to his credit beginning with "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power," a song his twin sister Sandra retrieved after he'd thrown it in the trash. It was his first venture into songwriting and he says, "I'd never written a song before ‘The Blood’ I didn't know it was going to be a song."
Fifty years later Crouch is still making music with The Journey. The album was produced by Luther "Mano" Haynes. Crouch has deep respect for Haynes, with whom he shares a long friendship.
"We met at a taping of TBN and he was at my house the next day. I gave him a few songs and told him to see what he could do with it. He came back and I loved it. It was just keyboards and I said, ‘We have got to get together.' He was just sensitive to the Lord and the words; he was a bible scholar and everything."
This collaboration has fueled Crouch's writing. "When I would get around [Hayes] I would just write and write. He lives in Arizona, where he’s organized a company (Riverphlo Entertainment), and we hit it off so well. We're like family, but it was something the Lord put together.
But in Crouch’s case, the songwriting process unfolds a bit differently than it might for other writers, owing to his dyslexia. Thus his process begins with drawings of how he thinks the song would sound before he begins to write lyrics. From there, he memorizes the images of his drawn characters and sometimes asks Sandra to help him comprehend a difficult word, so the lyrics don’t "look like a bunch of hay stacks."
From The Journey, ‘He Has a Plan For Me,’ with Tata Vega on lead vocal.
"I memorized everything through sight, the shape of the word," says Crouch, who also pastors at New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in San Fernando, CA, which was founded by his parents. "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."
Although dyslexia has been a lifelong struggle for Crouch, he thinks it played an integral role in his success. "If I was sharp in every area, I might be too big headed," he says with a laugh.
"Because of dyslexia I never did learn to read music and I had a problem in reading because everything was turned upside down, so I just had to draw from the lyrics and the voice that I would hear in my mind. When I was writing a song, I really didn't think that people would understand it. Sometimes I thought I was using the wrong words to explain something and I wasn't, but I didn't know it, so then I would go slow or try to make it more simple that I could understand it myself."
Judging by his popularity, audiences understand Crouch quite well. However, not everyone immediately warmed up to this new style of gospel music back in the early days.
"People didn't believe it was a gospel song at one time because the message wasn't just talking about dying and going to Heaven, but I would talk about what was on my heart. And I would say what I wanted to say in a different way and I was surprised that people understood what I was saying. But that opened the door up, so I pursued writing what I felt was coming out of my heart."
Crouch's music has also managed to transcend color lines. He has also been able to effortless interact with those in the secular arena, including Michael Jackson.
"I wasn't thinking about crossing the color line, I was thinking about telling a story. God knew what He was doing and He still does it that way. I'm grateful for what the Lord has done for me and through me, but I never get the big head over it. Everything that I received He gave it to me. I'm just like everyone else and I couldn't do none of these things by myself. I'm so glad that God uses me. "
From The Journey, ‘Jesus Came Into My Life, with lead vocal by Daniel Johnson
Despite all his success and acclaim, Crouch still projects an endearing humility and respects the gifts he’s nurtured and developed over time. "I knew that God had gifted me to write music,” he says. “There wasn't a time that I went to the piano that He didn't give me something. I am so grateful for the gift of music. When God pinpoints what He wants to bring out in music and then He puts it on my mind to sing it and to be able to play it and it came straight from His heart to me, that just blows me away. I'm just amazed how God does that. I wish I could see the process, all the different areas in Heaven that He sends a song or message to and He's got the music with Him. I certainly don't get the big head about it because I know how sensitive He is for His own glory's sake."
What's next? Not slowing down, he’s looking forward to touring again. "I love to perform," he says. "I thank God for my health and my strength. God has been good. I just want the Lord to use me 'til I die."
‘A Reach Back To Bring Forward…
Review: The Journey
By Andrea Hunter
Andraé Crouch's journey, sometimes ascendant, sometimes troubled, has always been richly, deeply, and profoundly musical. Who hasn't been reassured by "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" (written by Crouch when he was 15)? Who hasn't been brought to tears by the ascendant and powerful lyrics of "To God Be the Glory?"
Crouch, who has suffered serious health issues of late, has suffered no loss of vision and artistry. Although considered the father of contemporary gospel music, he is a master of pop, rock, world music, Latin, jazz, R&B, and beyond. On The Journey he features a host of stellar artists and worshipers including Tata Vega, Chaka Khan, Sheila E., Take 6, and Marvin Winans, casting a musical net far, wide and high. He is not the primary vocalist on most songs, but is more the scriptwriter of a cinematic adventure. And he has a capable collaborator in Luther "Mano" Hanes, who produced the collection and co-wrote 10 of the album's 15 songs.
From The Journey, ‘The Promise (Marvin’s Testimony),’ with Marvin Winans on lead vocal.
The Journey is epic, and has the emotional and dynamic range of a musical soundtrack or Broadway musical. The intricacy and imagination of vocal and instrumental performance and arrangements is a model for shaping music to evoke moods, reveal truth, create beauty, elicit a response, back a testimony, tell a story, reference time--and eternity--and serve as a dynamic bridge to gospel communication. The CD’s unrelenting focus is on Jesus, the experience of salvation and what God has done and continues to do on our behalf.
The rollicking bounce and genre-bending nuance of opening track, "Somebody Told Me about Jesus," is a testimony to Christ's love and transforming power. And, as in the Scriptures, we sometimes get the end of the story in the beginning; the album's second track, "Good Time," takes us to the coronation of the King of Kings and paints a celestial event that you wouldn't miss "for nothin'."
Crouch describes his current outing as "a reach back to bring forward." And bring forward he does on the classic "Without Faith," featuring Kim Burrell & Take 6; a song that recalls both Scripture (Heb 11:6) and the lush melodic beauty of vintage film scores. And again on "Heaven Bound," featuring vocalist Rance Allen, whose history stretches back to the beginnings of the Stax label, Andraé celebrates the legacy of traditional gospel. The past is present on the eerily sweet hymn "God Is on Our Side" where Crouch and Hanes bring forward harmonies from the 1800s to capture hearts in the 21st century, affirming that God is for us and present with us in difficult times, strengthening us in the midst of any trial.
From The Journey, ‘All Around the World,’ featuring Chaka Khan and Sheila E.
"Take Me to Where Jesus Is" might just be what the man lifted through the roof by what his friends in the Gospel of Mark said (Mark 2:3-5). And the song is so infectious, after one hearing, you may be saying/singing it too. The conversation in "I Can" reflects a God who listens, speaks and acts. Marvin Winans is the perfect match for "Let The Church Say Amen." An inspiring congregational tour de force, the song declares that God has spoken and still speaks and invites the Church to agree and embrace his irrevocable Word with a resounding "Amen."
Whether a simple four-line chorus such as "The Promise"- relaying the encouraging news that God will never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5) or the jazzy, spunk and humor of "He Has a Plan for Me," featuring the matchless vocals of Tata Vega, each song is a heart, head and spirit adventure. On Crouch's journey of salvation, celebration and worship, we experience God's care, amazing love and compassion for our weakness and pain, and his healing power, saving grace and transcendence over time. We are reminded of the inclusive brotherhood of every race and nation who will worship before his throne and the glorious diversity and the infinite possibility of God's creativity in us and through us. Let the church say "Amen" indeed.