The relationship between sacred and secular music has always been a tricky one and it was never trickier than in the seventies, when the Civil Rights movement had crested and, frankly, begun to move away from its New Testament roots (with results we’ve all been able to observe for the last few decades).
There was a brief moment in the early seventies when a kind of hybrid between white and black gospel and modestly soulful pop broke through on AM radio. The best example was probably the Edwin Hawkins’ Singers’ “Oh, Happy Day,” but Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell–not to mention the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar (particularly the hit versions of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” by Yvonne Elliman and Helen Reddy) were part of the everyday sound-scape as well.
Inside the churches–certainly inside my church–there was a lot of debate about all this, some of it pretty heated.
Should we allow electric guitars? Should these songs be sung by youth choirs? Should we invite bands/vocal groups who played/sang these kind of songs?
I had a front row seat at these debates because my mother was a choir director. Her own views were strictly enlightened. Make a joyful noise! And, if it brought people who wouldn’t otherwise hear the word, who could possibly object?
Well, a lot of people did object, but there was one performer who, in our little corner of the world, truly crossed all boundaries.
Ironically enough, Andrae Crouch and his band/choir the Disciples never crossed over to the mainstream Pop charts in the moment when–if we’d been just a little bit better–they might have been the most unifying musical force in America. As a multiracial outfit (white band, black singers, kind of like the situation at Muscle Shoals), I’m sure they experienced all the usual bigotry and ignorance. But that didn’t keep them from going a lot more places than most–or being welcomed by a lot of folks I know for a fact weren’t used to having anybody who looked or sounded like Andrae Crouch in their living room, even on the stereo.
When he finally had his own “pop” moment, it was backing the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna in the late eighties (those are his choirs on “The Man In the Mirror,” where they were joined by the Winans, and “Like a Prayer,” respectively…that is, two of the greatest and most visionary records of the last era when music was still at the core of American culture, a mistake I doubt the overlords will permit again).
I’m glad he found that moment…and just as glad he stayed with the message. As we used to say, Lord knows somebody needed to.
Andrae Crouch left this plane a few hours ago, victim of a heart attack at 72. Much as I love the records above, he and I go further back.
That’s the part I won’t forget. See you on the other side, brother.