“Now he belongs to the ages,” was my first thought when I got the call that my friend Andraé Crouch had succumbed to the heart attack that felled him the week before. That most famous epitaph in history originally belonged to Edwin Stanton describing the passing of Abraham Lincoln and as grandiose as it may sound, in musical terms, Crouch’a passing is on par with Lincoln’s, for he was a musical giant who may one day be fully appreciated in death in ways that sometimes eluded him in life.
There are reasons his musical genius may not have been understood in his lifetime and one of them is no doubt the genre in which he operated for most of his career, Gospel, as well as the fact that he never hesitated to take a pass on participating in projects that he felt would compromise his beliefs.
No less an icon than Madonna found this out the hard way when in 1988 at the peak of her fame, she turned to Crouch for help on a song “Like A Prayer,” and Crouch and his choir obliged with a command performance that gave the song power, emotion and depth. But when she sang “let the choir sing” leading into Crouch’s performance, she likely had no clue that he would later politely decline when it came time to film the video for the track. The reason: Madonna had chosen to take the video in a different direction than the song and Crouch wanting no part of a video that sexualized images of saints who came to life, left Madonna no choice but to dress others up in choir robes and have them do their best Milli Vanilli. As he told me matter-of-factly years later, “the video was something I didn’t believe in.”
“What did she say?” I prodded.
“She said, ‘I understand,'” he replied.
Crouch recalled the story without a hint of bitterness or disappointment, but one can only imagine the limitations that would naturally follow for an artist who was willing to walk away from career-making opportunities like that one and they no doubt affected his ability to reach a mass audience beyond the Gospel genre.
There’s also the fact that when we think of great singer/songwriters it is rock/pop artists like Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, John and Paul and Taupin and Elton that come to mind and not Gospel artists.
But a strong case can be made that Crouch belongs in that select group of singer/songwriters for the combination of his vocal performance, raw songwriting talent and piano playing.
Crouch was an imaginative songwriter whose lyrics were unusually personal, and he was fond of quoting others talking to him (“they say Andraé how can you have a song when everything is going wrong”), imagining how God talked to his arch-nemesis, (“they’re gonna keep on living for me Satan, they’re not gonna turn around,”) quoting Old Scratch talking to him (“Satan tried to tell me ‘Andraé why don’t you just throw in the towel,'”) and even imagining how his mother talked to God (“I heard her…