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Andraé Crouch leaves living gospel legacy

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“Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. No more crying there, we are going to see the King…no more dying there, we are going to see the King…Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King…”

Gospel music fans around the world are honoring the life and legacy of composer and singer Andraé Edward Crouch, who died Jan. 8 at age 72 after suffering complications following a heart attack.

So far as Crouch’s triumphant music is concerned, the legacy of the “father of modern gospel” will endure forever, says Indianapolis gospel artist Rodnie Bryant.

“I do believe there are certain people that are destined to live forever, even though they are not here with us, through the works they have done,” said Bryant, 48.“Certainly this would be Andraé Crouch, the works he’s done, even in the hymnal.”

Bryant, chapter representative for the Indianapolis chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), said his first reaction to the news of Crouch’s death was “just shock.”

“We know we’re not going to live forever, but just shock that such a legend is gone. Yet part of me was relieved, because you just don’t want to see good people suffer,” said Bryant. (Crouch’s publicist Brian Mayes has stated that prior to his heart attack, Crouch was also suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes and cancer.)

Most influential song?

Asked to select Crouch’s most influential song, Bryant responded, “It would be ‘My Tribute’, also known as ‘To God Be the Glory.’ I don’t know too many churches that don’t know that song. It’s the content of the words, that in everything we do, everything we say, at the end of the day, God should get all the glory.”

However, Valerie Davidson, the organizer of Butler University’s annual Gospel Fest, selected a different classic Crouch song.

“The one I remember from when I was a little girl in the choir at my church is ‘Soon and Very Soon,’ said Davidson. “That’s one that will always resonate with me, and that’s one so many people know,” said Davidson, Butler University director of Diversity Programs & the Efroymson Diversity Center. “I’ve been in Baptist churches, African-American churches, churches from all different denominations and cultures know that song.”

A third Gospel expert, Mary Hinton, chose yet another song. “The song I think he will be most remembered for is, ‘Let the Church Say Amen,’” said Hinton, who was recently chosen as the 15th president of the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota.

“If you have been in the Historic Black Church, you have heard this song. It’s a reminder that we’re one body in the church, one body as African-Americans. It’s a call to the community to come together and speak with one voice.”

“Let the Church Say Amen” also illustrates the classic character of gospel music, Hinton said.

“If you look at gospel music broadly defined over time, there’s a spiritual element. If you go back all the way to enslavement, it’s a call to the community to come together. It actually calls up a visceral response. He (Crouch) is asking us to open ourselves and respond as a people.”

“Gospel music, in many ways, reflects the needs and cries of a people, and that’s what this music does,” said Hinton. “In its simplicity, it reflects a time when the music was passed along orally.”

Musical model for all

No matter which song you champion, Crouch provides the consummate musical model for any gospel artist, said A.C. McClendon, member of Indianapolis-based gospel group Soul Purpose. “He was a genius well ahead of his time, and set the standard for gospel artists worldwide. Andraé Crouch’s compositions are timeless. Songs he wrote in the 70s and 80s are still relevant in 2015.”

“I fully agree with A.C.’s comments,” added Soul Purpose member Angela McClendon. “From the lyrical content in Mr. Crouch’s songs, it was obvious he was a man after God’s own heart. He was and always will be a legend.”

Began in high school

Crouch started his first group, the Church of God in Christ Singers, as a high school student. (The group’s members included Billy Preston, who later played keyboards for recordings by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.)

In college, Crouch studied elementary education and worked as a drug counselor. By the mid-1960s, Crouch founded the Disciples. His albums with the group included “Take the Message Everywhere,” “Keep On Singin’ ” and “Live at Carnegie Hall.” The group performed at the Hollywood Bowl and on “The Tonight Show” and toured in Europe and Africa. The easy-listening group the Johnny Mann Singers recorded an album of his songs.

Crouch led choirs that sang on pop hits including Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” In 1974, Paul Simon included Crouch’s song “Jesus Is the Answer,” featuring the Jessy Dixon Singers, on the album “Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’.” In 1972, Crouch’s composition “I’ve Got Confidence” was covered by Elvis Presley on his gospel album “He Touched Me.”

Crouch faced personal challenges. In 1982, he was arrested in Los Angeles for possession of cocaine, but stated it belonged to a friend. Ultimately, police declined to press charges. From 1993 through 1994, Crouch suffered the pain of losing both his father and mother as well as his older brother.

Upon his father’s death, Crouch and his sister split the role of senior pastor at the church their parents founded, Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in Pacoima, Calif.

President Obama responds

“Pastor Crouch grew up the son of a minister in California and discovered at a young age that he was blessed with extraordinary musical talent which would lead to an iconic career that spanned over 50 years,” Obama said in a written statement.

Obama said he and the First Lady are grateful “his music and spirit will continue to live on for years to come.”

Too worldly?

Over the years, Crouch got a lot of heated criticism from within and without the gospel community that his brand of gospel, which included influences from the blues, R&B and even disco, was allegedly too secular.

He responded to these charges in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1982: “Every song I’ve written takes you through the Scriptures and reinforces the word of God. I give people a beautiful message, but I do it with pop, rock, funk, jazz or disco or anything that will make it appealing,” Crouch said. “It’s a pity that a lot of great messages have been wasted because they have been paired with bad music. That’s what’s wrong with a lot of traditional church music. That’s why most of it bores me.”

In lieu of flowers, Crouch’s church has requested well-wishers send tax-deductible donations to: Andraé Crouch Memorial Fund, c/o New Christ Memorial Church, 13333 Vaughn, Pacoima, CA 91340. Cards and letters may be sent to: New Christ Memorial Church, Attn.: Mauri Jones, 13333 Vaughn. Pacoima, CA 91340.

For more information, see newchristmemorial.org.

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