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On Jan. 3, the incomparably influential black-gospel musician Andraé Crouch suffered a heart attack and went to be with the God of whom he’d faithfully written and sung for 50 years.
His death wasn’t exactly a surprise. He’d been hospitalized one month earlier for pneumonia and congestive heart failure, ailments particularly foreboding where a 72-year-old man is concerned.
But its timing, so to speak, was curious. A 10-date, multi-artist tour billed as “Let the Church Say Amen” had been scheduled to begin on Dec. 6. Its purpose: to honor Crouch and his music. What might God have been trying to say in reclaiming one of his own on the cusp of such a momentous event?
Maybe, just maybe, that no greater tribute could accrue to Crouch than the legacy-defining music that he had already made.
A son of a Pentecostal pastor who ran a laundry business on the side, Crouch experienced spiritual rebirth at the age of 9 and composed the first of his many standards, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” at age 14 (some sources say 15). Shortly thereafter, he formed his first group, the Church of God in Christ Singers. It included the future R&B superstar Billy Preston.
Crouch had a knack for attracting talented collaborators. The members of his most famous ensemble, “Andraé Crouch and the Disciples,” included the drummer Bill Maxwell and the guitarist Hadley Hockensmith, who together would go on to form the Christian jazz-fusion band Koinonia. The jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker played on Crouch’s 1976 album This Is Another Day. And Stevie Wonder, Joe Sample, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey contributed to I’ll Be Thinking of You (1979).
Like his other early albums, I’ll Be Thinking of You appeared on Ralph Carmichael’s Light Records, a label whose roster was predominantly white and whose recordings were distributed with high-profile aplomb to Christian bookstores and radio. Thus was Crouch able to cross over from black gospel to the evangelical mainstream.
His preferred musical stylings also played a role. In disentangling black gospel music from its blues roots and adopting a sleek, funky soulfulness, he hit upon a pop-friendly formula ideally suited to his indefatigable, explicitly scriptural optimism.
Not for Crouch was the dark night of the soul. His nearly 2,000 songs portray Jesus as a friend, a healer, a consoling giver of life more abundant. His concerts often culminated in exuberant sing-alongs in which the racially diverse audience that he attracted found itself united in a brotherhood rooted in the Fatherhood of God.
Crouch had his trials. In 1982, a series of bizarre misunderstandings resulted in his being busted for cocaine, an episode that didn’t lead to charges but proved a watershed. Although he continued to record—and to record well—under his own name, he also undertook background roles, contributing either alone or with his choir to TV (The Jeffersons), films (The Color Purple, The Lion King), and recordings by Michael Jackson (“Man in the Mirror”) and Madonna (“Like a Prayer”).
But perhaps the most defining moment of his career was his appearance in the 1982 Christmas episode of the late-night, cutting-edge comedy television show SCTV. Playing a soup-kitchen-running angel, he rescues the down-and-out ne’er-do-well “Johnny LaRue” (John Candy) from suicidal despond with sympathetic acts of kindness and a performance of “Soon and Very Soon.”
Surreal though the skit was, Crouch was going where no Christian had gone before—and bringing Jesus with him in the process.
It was, essentially, the story of his life.