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Widely regarded as the father of modern gospel music, vocalist, songwriter and producer Andrae Crouch helped to bridge the gap between the church and the charts during a pioneering career which spanned more than half a century. Crouch first started to spread the word as the leader of The Disciples in the mid-'60s, where he became a key figure of the burgeoning Jesus Music movement. His hymns and gospel compositions connected with a much wider audience thanks to covers by Elvis Presley and Paul Simon, and a string of solo records in which he collaborated with the cream of the R&B and jazz worlds. Crouch continued to push the genre into the mainstream throughout the 80s and 90s, arranging music for both pop superstars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson, and hit soundtracks including "The Color Purple" (1985) and "The Lion King" (1994). A seven-time Grammy winner, Oscar nominee and Gospel Hall of Fame inductee, few artists have combined the secular and the spiritual as successfully. His death on January 8, 2015 was mourned by gospel and secular audiences alike.
Born in San Francisco in 1942, Crouch was encouraged to take up singing by his preacher father upon discovering that it helped to overcome his childhood stutter, and after becoming a regular performer at his local church, he began writing his own songs aged 14. In 1960, Crouch formed The Church of God in Christ Singers, a group also featuring virtuoso keyboardist Billy Preston, with whom he first recorded one of his signature songs, "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power." While studying to be a teacher in 1965, Crouch founded his second and most successful gospel outfit, The Disciples, who became a regular fixture on the Southern California Christian music circuit, and after landing a deal with Light Records, released their debut album, Take The Message Everywhere, in 1968. Later adding Crouch's twin sister Sandra to their line-up, the group issued a further six records over the following decade, including the Grammy-winning Take Me Back and Live in London, and remained a hugely popular live draw until their split in 1979.
Crouch's reputation as a songwriter had also soared during this period when both Paul Simon and Elvis Presley helped introduce his work to a pop audience with covers of "Jesus is the Answer" and "I've Got Confidence" respectively. But Crouch was still keen to take center stage and having briefly ventured out on his own for 1973's Just Andrae, he resumed his solo career six years later with I'll Be Thinking Of You. Crouch went onto call upon the talents of Stevie Wonder, El Debarge and Tata Vega for a string of early 80s releases (Don't Give Up, Finally, No Time To Lose) which showcased his talents for incorporating pop, soul, jazz and R&B influences into the gospel music of his roots. However, after picking up a Best Original Score nomination for his soundtrack work on "The Color Purple" (1985), Crouch shifted his focus away from the spotlight and into the studio.
In 1987, Crouch and his choir were hired to performing backing vocals on Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror," the start of a long-standing connection with the King of Pop which also included appearances on Dangerous ("Keep The Faith," "Will You Be There"), HIStory ("Earth Song") and at his funeral service. Crouch added another pop superstar to his resume in 1989 when he sang in and directed the gospel choir which appeared on Madonna's number one, "Like A Prayer," and spent the next five years lending his considerable talents to records by artists as diverse as Nancy Wilson, Diana Ross and Rick Astley. After contributing to the soundtracks of animations "Once Upon A Forest" (1993) and "The Lion King" (1994), Crouch returned to the solo fray for 1994's Mercy, and alongside sister Sandra, took over the senior pastor role that his recently deceased parents had founded.
Following two further solo efforts, 1997's Pray and 1998's Gift of Christmas, Crouch was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame, worked on the original Broadway cast album for "It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues," and celebrated his 40th anniversary in the music industry by recruiting the likes of Marvin Winans, Fred Hammond and Crystal Lewis for 2006's Mighty Wind. Featuring duets with Chaka Khan and Sheila E., his final studio effort, The Journey, arrived in 2011, and was followed two years later by the recording of a PBS special, Live In Los Angeles. After suffering a series of health problems, Crouch died from a heart attack at Los Angeles' Northridge Hospital Medical Center on January 8, 2015, aged 72.
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