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Crouch battled racism, built music legacy

Christian singer transcended boundaries, but was ‘never afraid’
/ Source: The Associated Press

As Andrae Crouch remembers it, the crowd was roaring — until they actually saw the band.

Enthusiasm waned because many in the 1970s audience were startled to see something they apparently didn’t know about Christian recording artists Andrae Crouch and the Disciples: They’re black.

“It was like turning the stove on from burning hot, scorching hot, to low,” Crouch said, laughing. “It would be like, from cayenne pepper to bubble gum.”

Some began walking out of the Fort Worth concert, but everyone stayed once the group started playing, according to Crouch’s recollection.

“The Lord gave us an expression of our own to reach people,” said Crouch, one of the most celebrated gospel artists ever. “Some of my best friends today were people in that concert.”

Crouch returns to Dallas-Fort Worth Friday to receive the International Worship Institute’s Cherub Award in suburban Grapevine. Past winners include prolific gospel songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither.

“He has transcended so many boundaries and borders,” said LaMar Boschman, founder of the institute, which helps church leaders enhance worship services.

Crouch’s songs, which include “My Tribute (To God be the Glory)” and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” which he wrote at the age of 14, span racial and cultural divisions. Andrae Crouch and the Disciples helped pioneer “Jesus music,” a 1960s and ‘70s movement that spawned the current explosion in contemporary Christian music.

Crouch, 64, has won six Grammys for gospel performances and one for a pop/contemporary gospel album. He has also contributed to the secular music world, arranging Michael Jackson’s 1987 hit song “Man in the Mirror” as well as the music from Disney’s “The Lion King” in 1994 and Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film “The Color Purple.”

He just released his first album since 1997, “A Mighty Wind” (Verity).

Crouch’s songs, which range from reverent hymns to funky soul, have been performed by Elvis Presley and Paul Simon. In 2004, he became only the third gospel artist to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, joining Mahalia Jackson and the Rev. James Cleveland.

A life rich in musicCrouch, his voice raspy from singing and preaching, spoke recently with The Associated Press by telephone from New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in San Fernando, Calif. He pastors the church founded by his parents. His sister, Sandra, is the assistant pastor.

“My mother was quite conservative as far as rhythm,” he said. “She didn’t know how to clap on two and four; she would clap on one and three. My father was just the opposite. He knew everything about gospel singing.”

Young Andrae was exposed to all types of music in the home — as long as it wasn’t contrary to the family’s religious beliefs. His father taught him to pay close attention to a song’s message, a lesson he says has made a difference throughout his career.

“God was training him in how to tell us how the lyric content was, and how the music matched the lyric,” Crouch said. “It just seemed like he was training us, and we just soaked it in. When we were in Bible school, we were so conscious of explaining who the Lord was.”

Crouch founded the Disciples in the 1960s, a time of social upheaval around the country. They frequently encountered racism, including the time when they brought their wives to a concert at a church.

“One of the boys in the group had married a white girl. ... When they saw she was a white girl, an ‘emergency’ came, and they had to shut down the concert,” he said.

Crouch said some radio-station program directors refused to play his songs that “sounded like black people singing.” And the group once found Ku Klux Klan stickers on a hotel door.

“We didn’t know the seriousness,” he said. “We were never afraid, not at all. We were always witnesses.”

Crouch still composes songs — as well as sermons — and says more albums will come. He has 150 songs that have never been released. His head is filled with music, and he sometimes writes five or six songs in a day.

He credits God for the process.

“Sometimes, I might be thinking of butterflies, and he’ll give me a song about dinosaurs,” Crouch said. “I’ll not even be thinking about the subject matter I’m writing about, I’m just playing around with something else.”

Once, Crouch remembers, he somehow came up with a song about an artesian well.

“I never in my life read nothing about an artesian well, and here I was explaining it and making parallels with my life,” he said. “It’s really not ‘scary’ because God was doing it, but for a lack of words, it would be a scary thing.”

With more than 40 years in the business, new people are being introduced to his music all the time — even at his church.

“When I sing my songs, 90 percent of the time, the people who compliment the songs come up and say, ‘Pastor, is that a new one?’ I say, ‘yes, if you consider Abe Lincoln to be a young man,” he said, laughing. “It’s brand new. It’s hot off the press.”