History of Hymns: 'Through It All'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Through It All”
by Andraé Crouch
The United Methodist Hymnal, 507
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus;
I’ve learned to trust in God.
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon his word.*
* © 1971 Manna Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
The refrain of this hymn became the title for the autobiography written by Andraé Edward Crouch (1945–2015) with Nina Ball in 1974. Each chapter cites one of Crouch’s songs. The first chapter concludes with this excerpt that appears to be a commentary on the stanzas of “Through It All”:
The hardest thing about always being on the go is leaving your home, your local community, the relatives and friends you see every day to suddenly open up your life to everybody all over the world. You become involved with more and more people and there is so much heartache it can break you. I had to learn to rely totally on the Lord. Totally.
But God sends the mountains. . . to lift us up from the valleys. . ., and He gives us strength to travel through it all—through the up times and through the down times. I just thank Him for everything, all the tears—tears of sorrow, tears of joy—for the problems, and the trust, the faith, His Word, His Holy Spirit, and for Jesus. Through it all He brings a blessed harmony to life. Knowing Him, belonging to Him, is enough. Praise His name (Crouch, 1974, p. 17).
Some hymnals cite only the refrain, especially mainline collections for predominately Anglo congregations, while hymnals coming out of the African American experience include the original three stanzas with the refrain. Inclusion of the stanzas, however, shifts the message of the song from a chorus on the journey theme to a testimony about how the singer encounters the abiding presence of God throughout life. From the excerpt quoted above, it becomes clearer that this hymn is autobiographical – each stanza beginning with a description of an aspect of the composer’s life journey. The second half of the stanza recognizes the consolation and comfort provided by Jesus. This approach turns the song into a testimony – a personal witness of God’s companionship throughout life.
Stanza 1, beginning with “I’ve had many tears and sorrows,” is reflected in Crouch’s narrative above. He acknowledges that at times “I didn’t know right from wrong.” However, at all times, “God gave blessed consolation.” Stanza 2—beginning with “I’ve been to lots of places, / And I’ve seen a lot of faces”—recounts the many travels that Crouch had taken in his ministry and the impact that others had on his life. He traveled with his group, The Disciples, to sixty-eight countries. His autobiography describes numerous encounters with others on his journeys. Though with crowds on these pilgrimages, people who travel extensively often describe the loneliness of the road. The stanza concludes with an awareness that “Jesus lets me know I was his own.” The final stanza—beginning with “I thank God for the mountains, / And I thank him for the valleys”—returns to a theme found in his first song, “The Blood Shall Never Lose Its Power” (1962). Reminiscent of “When the Storms of Life Are Raging” by Methodist preacher Charles Tindley (1851–1933), Crouch gives thanks to God “for the storms [Jesus] brought me through,” concluding that if he hadn’t had these trials, “I’d never know what faith in God would do.”
While the refrain may stand on its own, it is the power of the refrain as a response to the stanzas that brings the testimonial nature of this hymn full circle. The stanzas, though autobiographical from Crouch’s perspective, are transparent enough to relate to the experience of many others. This is, indeed, the hallmark of the text of a good hymn – while drawn from the author’s background, it articulates the experience of others who sing it.
The song was written in 1971 when Andraé Crouch and The Disciples were on a concert tour in California, where the composer was in a time of deep disillusion and disappointment. Minutes after the completion of the song, there was an earthquake in the San Fernando Valley where the concert was taking place (Stanislaw and Hustad, 1992, p. 152). While several scripture passages are relevant, commentators most often cite Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (KJV).
African American hymnologist and historian Jon Michael Spencer (now known as Yahya Jongintaba) offers a theological reflection on this song as a part of a larger analysis of black hymnody:
The music of Andraé Crouch occasionally characterizes life as full of sleepless nights, burdens, and wickedness. Crouch also applies the customary means of consoling the disconsolate by heralding the virtues of cross-bearing. [At this point Spencer cites the final stanza of “Through It All,” beginning with stanza 3, “I thank God for the mountains.”] Nonetheless, in highlighting the entity of power in the Holy Ghost and in the “name” and the “blood” of Jesus, Crouch places far greater emphasis on the joy of “crown-wearing” than on the sorrow of “cross-bearing.” . . . . Crouch depicts God’s humanity in a much more positive light. . . Crouch hopes that heaven will be his “final home,” and he urges believers to be ready for Christ’s return. . . . [T]here is neither a sense of anticulturalism [or] being radical in his music nor of urgency to get to heaven at the earliest opportunity (Spencer, 1990, pp. 119–220).
In addition to “Through It All,” The United Methodist Hymnal contains three of Crouch’s songs: “My Tribute” (99) and “Soon and Very Soon” (706). The Faith We Sing includes his well-known “Bless His Holy Name” (2015), and two African American United Methodist supplements—Songs of Zion and Zion Still Sings—include “The Blood Shall Never Lose Its Power.” This attests to two things: (1) United Methodists have a broad ethnic constituency and (2) Crouch’s songs speak to the spiritual experience of those from a spectrum of cultural/racial backgrounds. Relevant to the second point, columnist Ruthie Oberg notes:
The impact of Andrae 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.).
Together, these four hymns provide only the slimmest selection of his more than 350 songs on more than thirty albums.
The first hymnals to include this song were for evangelical congregations – Hymns for the Family of God (1976), edited by Fred Bock, and The New Church Hymnal (1976), edited by Ralph Carmichael, coming out the same year. These were followed by another evangelical hymnal, Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (1979), compiled by John W. Peterson. The first African American hymnal to include this hymn was Yes Lord! Church of God in Christ Hymnal (1982), Crouch’s own denomination. This hymnal paved the way for recognition in later African American collections.
In this YouTube example, a younger Crouch in his prime sings “Through It All” at a Billy Graham Crusade in New Mexico in 1975. Compare Crouch’s presentation at a Gaither gathering thirty-seven years later (2012), accompanying at the piano with celebrated gospel singer Cece Winans (b. 1964) singing the vocals.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Andraé Crouch 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. His fortieth-anniversary album, Mighty Wind, was released in 2006. Crouch composed more than 350 songs, many of which appear on more than thirty albums.
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 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 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.
For Further Reading
Horace Clarence Boyer, How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel (Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark Publishing, 1995).
Andraé Crouch (with Nina Ball), Through It All (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974).
Tony Jasper, “Andraé 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).
Jon Michael Spencer, Protest and Praise: Sacred Music of Black Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990).
Richard J. Stanislaw and Donald P. Hustad, Dictionary-Handbook to the Worshiping Church: A Hymnal  (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1992).
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.