Andrae Crouch's songs have made him a gospel legend. He's written dozens that he's made classic hits, while others have been sung by the likes of Elvis Presley.
But for Crouch, the songwriting process isn't actually about writing because of his dyslexia.
Crouch, whose signature songs include "Soon and Very Soon" and "My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)," usually starts off 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 his twin sister, Sandra, to help him comprehend a difficult word, so the words do not "look like a bunch of hay stacks."
"I memorized everything through sight, the shape of the word," said Crouch, who also pastors at New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in San Fernando, Calif., 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 or something," he said in a recent interview.
Since he debuted in 1960, Crouch has collected eight Grammys. He also helped pioneer the burgeoning "Jesus Music" movement from the late 1960s and '70s that initiated the spread of contemporary Christian music. He and his choir The Disciples have sung background for Madonna's song "Like a Prayer" and he went on to arrange music for the 1985 film "The Color Purple" and the Disney's "The Lion King" in 1994.
The 69-year-old Crouch recently released his 18th solo album, "The Journey," featuring Chaka Khan, Shelia E., Take 6, Kim Burrell and Marvin Winans. It's his first release since his 2006 album, "Mighty Wind," which won a Dove Award for traditional gospel album of the year. Last week, "The Journey" received a Grammy nomination for best gospel album.
On his latest album, Crouch still uses the same formula that led him to create "I've Got Confidence," which was later performed by Presley. When he helped Michael Jackson arrange the King of Pop's 1987 hit song, "Man in the Mirror," he drew a mirror with an image inside to fully grasp the concept of the song. He used this technique many times; he'd be in the studio, and no one knew about his condition or his method of crafting lyrics.
"I would be thinking in the back of my mind, 'If they only knew,'" said he with a chuckle.
Like Crouch, there are many other popular figures affected by dyslexia, including Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Cruise.
"Sometimes when God brings things into an individuals' life, it makes them totally depend on him," said Crouch, who is one of five gospel singers to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, joining Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland and recent inductees Bebe & Cece Winans.
"So when I finish a song, I thank God for bringing me through," he continued. "You have to press on and know your calling. That's what I've been doing for all my life. I just went forward."
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mrlandrum31