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Andraé Crouch kindled ‘new dimension’ of worship

NASHVILLE (BP) — Legendary gospel songwriter and performer Andraé Crouch has died at the age of 72.

Crouch’s songs — among them: “My Tribute,” “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” “Soon and Very Soon,” “Bless the Lord” and “Through It All” — have become standards and are included in the hymnals of both African American and Anglo churches.

He was a major figure in the “Jesus Movement” of the ’60s and ’70s, which led to the rise in popularity of contemporary Christian and gospel music. He is credited with pioneering the urban gospel sound, blending elements of traditional gospel, R&B, jazz and pop.

Crouch’s sound became so synonymous with gospel music that anytime a mainstream artist or movie studio needed a gospel song, he was their first call. His work in writing, arranging and directing can be heard on recordings by Elvis Presley, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paul Simon and others, as well as on soundtracks for movies like “The Lion King” and “The Color Purple,” for which Crouch was nominated for an Academy Award. He is one of only a handful of gospel musicians with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

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.

Leo Day, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of music and a gospel artist himself, wrote in an email to Baptist Press he had used the Crouch song “Take Me Back” only a few days earlier in a lecture to encourage students to remember their testimony in order to make worship more meaningful.

“When I was a young teenager (around 13) I remember learning ‘My Tribute,'” Day recalled. “And in fact it was my first solo … and the first song that made me feel something! I sang it over and over and over again. It made me realize that whoever wrote this song was inspired by the Holy Spirit because the song is inspired. It has stood the test of time. I still sing the song in concert today.”

Crouch’s songs “came from his soul” and “not only moved the performer but also the audience,” Day said. “The variety — the lyrics, the harmonies and freshness of his musical language and voice — will remain with us for the next hundred years. Thank you, Mr. Crouch, for giving us singers an opportunity time after time to sing your songs. Your songs challenged us musically and made us open our hearts to a whole new dimension of genuine worship!”

D.A. Horton, a Christian rapper and the national coordinator for urban student missions with the North American Mission Board, is another who has felt Crouch’s influence.

“The impact [Crouch] had on my life and ministry is deeply meaningful,” Horton, who is also a doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in written comments to Baptist Press. “Andraé 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. The best way we can remember his efforts is to match his boldness in proclaiming that Jesus is the answer for the world today.”

Crouch and his twin sister Sandra, also a gospel singer, grew up under the ministry of their parents at the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in Southern California. Crouch began playing piano and writing songs at an early age and started his first music group while still in high school.

In 1965, he founded The Disciples, the group that became an outlet for his compositions and launched him to gospel music fame. Before disbanding in 1979, The Disciples had performed in front of nationwide audiences, including “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and in 68 countries. Crouch continued to perform as a solo artist, with a team of background musicians and singers. In the ’90s, he also took over as senior pastor of the church his parents helped build.

Crouch had dealt with multiple illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. He died Thursday, Jan. 8, at Northridge Hospital Medical Center near Los Angeles from complications following a heart attack.

Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship and one of those responsible for including several of Crouch’s songs in the Baptist Hymnal, said Crouch had not stopped making music.

“It’s hard to imagine the world without Andraé Crouch,” Harland, who leads the music division of LifeWay Christian Resources, said in comments relayed to Baptist Press. “And of all the songs that come to mind to remember him by, the one that stands out to me today is one of the last ones he wrote. Just last summer, Andraé co-wrote a song with one of our writers, Tommy Walker, titled ‘Someday.’

“The song is about eternal life — the second verse seems so poignant in the wake of Andraé’s passing:

“‘Someday it will all be over … and at last the bitter taste of death forever will give way to tears of joy.’

“Now Andraé’s ‘someday’ has come. And the tears are tears of joy,” Harland said.