Andrae Crouch, Grammy-winning gospel singer and pioneer, dies at 72

Grammy-winning gospel singer and composer Andrae Crouch dies at 72

Andrae Crouch, a Grammy-winning gospel singer and composer who started his career at 14, helped Michael Jackson arrange "Man in the Mirror" and became a pastor of the church his father founded in the San Fernando Valley, died Thursday. He was 72.

Crouch, a Pacoima resident who had a history of diabetes and cancer, died at Northridge Hospital Medical Center after suffering a heart attack Saturday, said his publicist, Brian Mayes.

Last month he was hospitalized with pneumonia and congestive heart disease.

A dyslexic who in childhood had a bad stutter, Crouch was known for pioneering a gospel sound with a contemporary feel — sometimes to the dismay of critics who felt his work was too secular.

But he and his group the Disciples received multiple Grammys for their efforts. In 2004, Crouch became only the third gospel artist to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Deeply religious, Crouch built his songs around themes of salvation, renewal and the glory of everyday life.

"I started singing what I had to say," he once told People magazine. "People became music to me because everything they said was a song."

Because of his dyslexia, lyrics were difficult to write, often originating not in words on paper but in drawings that denoted words.

Sometimes he would ask his twin sister, Sandra, to help in the process, so the words did not "look like a bunch of haystacks," he told the Associated Press in a 2011 interview.

"I memorized everything through sight, the shape of the word," he said. "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."

"If I was sharp in every area, I might be too big-headed," he joked.

Crouch's trademark songs included "My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)," "Soon and Very Soon" and his first, "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power."

When he wrote it as a teenager, he crumpled it up and threw it away. His sister, a fellow Grammy winner and his co-pastor at Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ in San Fernando, retrieved it from the wastebasket.

"Andrae, that's a good song," she told him.

Born in Los Angeles on July 1, 1942, Andrae Edward Crouch was the son of preacher Benjamin Crouch and his wife, Catherine. The couple owned and managed a couple of dry-cleaning stores.

Benjamin became a full-time pastor only after promising God he would do so if his son Andrae were given a talent for music. The boy liked to sing but his only experience playing an instrument was through tapping his fingers on a cardboard piano keyboard his mother had bought for him.

When he was 11, Andrae was invited by his father, then a lay preacher on part-time assignments, to play the piano for a church choir performing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

His performance was flawless. Within weeks, Benjamin Crouch was well on the way toward a full-time pastorate.

Andrae Crouch attended what is now Los Angeles Valley College and Life Bible Institute in Los Angeles.

Although he had studied elementary education and worked as a counselor for recovering drug abusers, he was driven to a musical career. He formed the Disciples in the mid-1960s and released his first album, "Take the Message Everywhere," in 1971.

In 1972, he launched his solo career with "Just Andrae" while continuing to tour with the Disciples, including sold-out concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1975 and 1979. Crouch and the Disciples won their first Grammy Award in 1978.

By the early 1980s, his success at merging gospel music with pop was drawing criticism as well as plaudits.

Many church traditionalists "do think my music is trash," he told The Times in 1982. "That doesn't bother me. I'm going to do what I think is right."

"Every song I've written takes you through the Scriptures and reinforces the word of God. I give people a beautiful message, but I do it with pop, rock, funk, jazz or disco or anything that will make it appealing. It's a pity that a lot of great messages have been wasted because they have been paired with bad music. That's what's wrong with a lot of traditional church music. That's why most of it bores me."

Crouch enthusiastically veered from the traditional, and many stars took note. Elvis Presley recorded Crouch's "I've Got Confidence" in 1972, and Paul Simon did "Jesus Is the Answer" for a 1974 album. He arranged Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" in 1987. Crouch received an Academy Award nomination for arranged music for "The Color Purple" (1985). He also arranged Disney's "The Lion King" (1994).

Crouch's father founded his Pentecostal church in the San Fernando Valley in 1951. When he died in 1993, Crouch's brother Benjamin Jr. took over. When he too died of cancer, in 1995, Crouch took the pulpit himself.

"I knew in time I was going to be a pastor," he told the Associated Press. "It was very well orchestrated by the Lord, but I didn't want to play at the time. It was an arrangement. Once I accepted the arrangement, I went right into it."

In 1998, he defied his denomination's policy against ordained female pastors by making Sandra co-pastor of the 800-member church. "I feel we have the freedom to do new things without always having to refer to what my father did," he told The Times.

Crouch, who had been ordained since about 1980, started a drug recovery program and an outreach ministry for gang members. He pointed to his sister's ordination as an example of divine intention.

"With the problems that young people have, God wants to use everybody who has the Word in them," he said at the time. "God is pulling out every stop."

His sister, Sandra of Pacoima, is his only survivor.

Twitter: @schawkins

Times staff writers Elaine Woo and David Colker contributed to this report.

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