History of Hymns: 'The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power'
By C. Michael Hawn
“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”
by Andraé Crouch
Songs of Zion, 184
Zion Still Sings, 204
It reaches to the highest mountain,
it flows to the lowest valley;
the blood that gives me strength from day to day,
it will never lose it power.*
* © 1966, 1994 Manna Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Andraé Edward Crouch (1945–2015) in the gospel music field during the last fifty years. Perhaps no other African American gospel composer-performer has had such a sustained level of accomplishment and recognition – seven Grammys, three Dove awards, an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Motion Picture Score for the film The Color Purple (1985), induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998, and much more.
Born with a twin sister, Sandra Elaine, in Los Angeles, he grew up in a church founded by his father, Benjamin Crouch, who was in the cleaning business while pastoring Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, a congregation in the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ (COGIC) tradition. The entire family loved music. Sandra and Andraé would sing together as children, making up church songs as a part of their play. Andraé constructed his own cardboard keyboard, stretched it out on a bedroom cabinet, and “practiced.” They wore out their favorite gospel vinyl albums on the record player (Crouch, 1974, pp. 22–23).
It was in his father’s church that Andraé began to sing and formed his first singing group, the COGICS (Church of God in Christ Singers), in 1960. Andraé would join a host of other COGIC musical luminaries that included Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–1973), Walter (1949–2010) and Edwin (1943–2018) Hawkins, the O’Neal twins – Edgar (1937–2008) and Edward (1937–1990), and Vanessa Bell Armstrong (b. 1953) (Boyer, 1995, p. 24). In 1965, Crouch founded the Disciples singing group and, upon the advice of Christian composer Ralph Carmichael (b. 1927), began to record his compositions in 1969. From 1965–1985, Andraé Crouch and the Disciples performed in numerous venues, such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the Hollywood Bowl, and Carnegie Hall. The Disciples toured sixty-eight countries. The songs contained in most hymnals come from this period.
The United Methodist Hymnal contains three of Crouch’s songs – “My Tribute” (99), “Through It All” (507), and “Soon and Very Soon” (No. 706). The Faith We Sing includes his well-known “Bless His Holy Name” (2015). Together, these provide only the slimmest selection of his more than 350 songs on more than thirty albums. His fortieth-anniversary album, Mighty Wind, was released in 2006.
Andraé Crouch’s ministry in song appeals across racial groups. Columnist Ruthie Oberg notes:
The impact of Andraé Crouch’s influence on contemporary Christian music in the 1970s and forward is impossible to quantify. For the first time, mainstream Christian radio stations were playing music performed by a black man for white audiences on a large scale. Crouch’s concerts drew both black and white audiences at a time when most concerts were segregated whether by intention or not (Oberg, 2018, n.p.).
The COGICS recorded Crouch’s first song, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” (1962), a song that continues to be one of his most popular compositions. “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” then appeared on the debut Disciples album, Take the Message Everywhere (1968) produced by Ralph Carmichael for Manna Music. The following is a 2006 recording with Crouch and other artists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FQCWMOmfio. It appears that Sandra literally saved this classic from the trash:
Andraé and his twin sister, Sandra, spent their childhood singing in their father’s church and in community choirs, including one led by gospel musician, James Cleveland [1931–1991]. When they were 14 years old, Andraé and Sandra were invited to Cleveland’s home for a barbeque. Andraé recalled looking up to Cleveland and thinking, “wish I could write a song.” Watching the adults pour the large vat of barbeque sauce over the ribs, it reminded Andraé of the blood of Jesus and he begin to sing, “The blood that Jesus shed for me way back on Calvary, the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.” Sandra wrote the words down but Andraé wasn’t happy with it and threw it in the trash. Sandra said, “Andraé, that was a good song!” She dug it out of the trash can and kept it (Oberg, 2018, n.p.).
It is likely that the familiar gospel song “Power in the Blood” (“Would you be free from your burden of sin”) (1899) by YMCA General Secretary Lewis E. Jones (1865–1936) had an influence on Crouch’s creative process, as evidenced by this recording with the Disciples in Dallas, Texas, in 1972, an upbeat COGIC-style version of the hymn much different from evangelical white renditions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L7x3591iCc&feature=emb_title). Crouch probably also knew “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” (“Have you been to Jesus for his cleansing power”) (1878) by music editor Elisha Hoffman (1839–1929). All these songs share the theology that the blood of Christ redeems us from sin: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of grace” (KJV).
The first line of stanza 1, “The blood that Jesus shed for me,” is virtually identical to the opening line of a hymn by Canadian-born Civila Martin (1866–1948): “The blood that Jesus once shed for me.” The words of the refrain are also very similar: “The blood that cleanses from all sin / Will never lose its power.” A lesser-known hymn by Fanny Crosby (1820–1915) begins similarly—“The blood which Jesus shed for me” (1906)—focuses on the cleansing blood of Jesus but does not include the theme of power.
These similarities demonstrate that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood was both a widely proclaimed theological theme and an established gospel song trope long before Crouch’s composition – “a metaphor for Christ’s atonement for our sin” (Brink and Polman, 1998, p. 726). Crouch’s briefer text contains a shift in the focus of this familiar theme, however. In stanza 1, the sustaining nature of Christ’s blood shed “way back on Calvary” indicates that the initial experience of salvation continues to “give strength from day to day.” In stanza 2, this sustaining strength is evident in how Christ’s blood “soothes my doubts and calms my fears, / and . . . dries all my tears.” Crouch connects the historical sacrifice of Christ explicitly to the existential realities of the singer today.
In the refrain, the phrases “It reaches to the highest mountain, / it flows to the lowest valley” have numerous biblical antecedents. The vision of redemption is expansive. Psalm 103:12 notes similarly, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (KJV). The power of Christ’s blood is with us in the pinnacle of our lives and well in the midst of life’s deepest distress.
Listen to a more recent instrumental interpretation of “The blood shall never lose its power” by African American gospel composer and artist Richard Smallwood (b. 1948) in 2008 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nUnqc3Qcsk&feature=emb_title). Notice how the congregation joins in spontaneously in what is truly one of their heart songs.
White evangelicals first recognized the song’s potential as a congregational hymn in print. Crouch’s producer Ralph Carmichael included it in The New Church Hymnal (1976) as did the evangelical collection Hymns for the Family of God (1976), edited by Fred Bock, the same year. Soon afterward, it appeared in Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (1979), compiled by John W. Peterson. The African American United Methodist supplement, Songs of Zion (1981), and the COGIC hymnal, Yes, Lord! (1982), also included it, establishing the song’s efficacy in both white and black communities. Attesting to the song’s appeal across cultural lines, it continues to appear in more recent and mainline and African American collections including Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) and One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (2018).
For Further Reading
Horace Clarence Boyer, How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel (Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark Publishing, 1995).
Emily R. Brink and Bert Polman, eds., Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1998).
Andraé Crouch (with Nina Ball), Through It All (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974).
Tony Jasper, “Andrae Crouch: His Life and Legacy,” Christianity Today (January 9, 2015), https://www.christiantoday.com/article/andrae.crouch.his.life.and.legacy/45701.htm?print=1, (accessed December 16, 2020).
Ruthie Edgerly Oberg, “Andraé Crouch: The COGIC Minister Who Bridged the Racial Gap in Gospel Music,” This Week in AG History—May 22, 1977: Assemblies of God News (May 24, 2018): https://news.ag.org/features/this-week-in-ag-history-may-22-1977, (accessed December 16, 2020).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.