Andrae Crouch is perched among the most monied and successful gospel artists performing today – maybe ever. His success has attracted every kind of jab and compliment, and responses to his ministry vary from adulation and worship to judgment and condemnation.
It is true that, today, he counts more as a corporate entity than a single artist. His recently-formed Crouch Ministries and his dual contracts with Warner Bros. (soon to be with Elektra/Asylum, instead) and with Light Records support the impression that Andrae is no longer the sweet, young boy (he and his sister began touring widely in a broken-down bus during their teens) who brought his unique style of contemporary black gospel to almost exclusively white audiences and who touched the lives, the hearts and the faith-walks of a remarkable number of those now carrying visible names in contemporary Christian music.
He has written literally hundreds of songs, recorded a dozen albums and has won four Grammys and an award of recognition from ASCAP. His tune, “My Tribute” has been recorded more than 500 times and can be found in many church hymnals. His “Jesus Is The Answer,” sung by Paul Simon and Jessy Dixon, was a top-selling single. Even Elvis Presley committed one of this prolific songwriter’s tunes, “I’ve Got Confidence,” to vinyl.
For the most part, Andrae doesn’t carry his bags anymore. He usually hires someone to do that. And sometimes that offends Christians. But he does still carry the message (unlike those who have given up the Gospel to sell records) and he still sells records.
According to Elizabeth Bryce, production manager at Warner Bros. Records, 70,000 of Andrae’s first Warner’s LP Don’t Give Up, his most recent release, had already been sold in Detroit, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. (strong black music markets) as of November 25. Only weeks subsequent to the release of the album’s first single, “Start All Over Again,” the company released a second single, “Hollywood Scene,” and now is expanding promotion of the album in three even larger markets – Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Whereas most Christian artists can only talk about reaching the non-Christian, Andrae has a real chance of doing it. And whereas some now-Christian secular artists are losing their following because of their Christian stance, Andrae is, apparently, gaining audience. And Andrae’s sound has not really changed, except perhaps that the songs on this record tend to be more upbeat and funky and, therefore, more contemporary and more appealing to a wider cross-section of American musical tastes.
Thematically, the new material addresses the wavering non-Christian and, especially, the unchurched Christian pop music listener. It talks about political and social issues in the personal context; and its ideological stance is clearly Christian, even though the terms used are sometimes too personal to mount on a placard.
“Don’t Give Up is really a whole other side of me,” says Andrae. “The topics I sing about on this album maybe wouldn’t have been written without an outlet like Warner Bros. I think a lot of people that don’t consider themselves Christians were tuning me in before, but now I really have an opportunity to talk directly to them. And God gave me the creativity to do just that.
“A lot of Gospel is written about a make-believe world. God gives us the desire to make things better, but it isn’t always automatic. We need to be honest. That’s what I’m getting at on this album. At the same time, I’m trying to expose people to the joy of being a Christian, softening hearts and planting seeds…helping people to learn the language of God.”
Now Andrae has another make-believe world to confront. He has gained entrance to the world of video, or the “Hollywood Scene” to borrow his own words. Some, no doubt, remember his controversial appearance on ABC’s old “Saturday Night Live.” Since then, he has racked up dates on a series of high-visibility programs including “The Mike Douglas Entertainment Hour” (Nov. 24) and the “Mac Davis Christmas Special” (Dec. 24), as well as an upcoming appearance, playing himself, on “The Jeffersons.”
Andrae will also be performing alongside Dionne Warwick and Jack Elliot & The Orchestra in a special program honoring the life and work of Martin Luther King at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Los Angeles Music Center on Jan. 13. (He first appeared at the King Memorial Concert two years ago.)
Andrae’s next secular label recording is scheduled for release on Elektra/Asylum (the company that recently struck a distribution deal with the Christian record company, Light). The very next Andrae Crouch release, however, will be on the Light label and is scheduled for release mid-year. Some hope that record will be directed to churched Christians and focused on worship and praise of the Lord. You see, although some of the Christian body criticize Andrae’s turn toward an audience different from itself, it cannot deny its need for his voice.
“I want to keep being a challenge and a help to my brothers and sisters,” he asserts. “I’ll always be doing the revival and worship songs that keep them excited and ready to serve. But I also think that Don’t Give Up is going to be a real blessing to them, just as I hope it will be to new audiences.” He pauses before adding, “See, none of this was an accident. I wanted on the timing of this album and these songs. The right moment is now. I think many people are ready to hear what’s in the music. God’s put me in touch with the mainstream…”