History of Hymns: ‘Bless His Holy Name’
By C. Michael Hawn
"Bless His Holy Name"
by Andraé Crouch
The Faith We Sing, No. 2015
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Psalm 103:1 (KJV)
Few musicians have had such a major influence on church music around the world in the last half of the 20th century than Andraé Crouch (1942-2015). It would be difficult to overestimate his importance in the Gospel music field during the last 50 years. Few have had such a sustained level of accomplishment and recognition in gospel music—seven Grammys, six Dove awards, an Oscar nomination, induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (1998), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004, and much more.
The United Methodist Hymnal contains three of Crouch’s songs, “My Tribute” (No. 99), “Through It All” (No. 507), and “Soon and Very Soon” (No. 706). The Faith We Sing includes his well-known “Bless His Holy Name” (No. 2015). Zion Still Sings (2007) contains one of his earliest and most enduring songs, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” (No. 204), which was written when Crouch was 15 years old and became a hit when it was included in the album Take the Message Everywhere (1969). Together, these provide only the slimmest selection of his more than 350 songs on more than 20 albums. His 40th anniversary album, Mighty Wind, was released in 2006; and his final album, Live in Los Angeles, was released in 2013, less than two years before his death. In addition, he appeared on at least 40 albums and additional videos produced by others. (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andra%C3%A9_Crouch_discography)
Andraé Crouch’s career also extended beyond the gospel song field. He received an Academy Award nomination for his compositions and arrangements for the film The Color Purple (1985). He was the arranger and choral conductor for The Lion King (1994). He worked with artists such as Diana Ross and Ringo Starr and collaborated with many artists on recordings. Some of the most famous names in the business recorded his songs including Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Paul Simon, and Madonna.
Andraé and his twin sister Sandra were born in San Francisco. Their parents owned and operated dry-cleaning and restaurant businesses. In addition, they were heavily involved in ministries including street-preaching, hospital, and prison work. Whenever his father was asked to preach in small congregations, Andraé could be found at the piano playing and singing. He wrote his first Gospel song at age 14.
Before his twentieth birthday, he formed the Church of God in Christ Singers (COGICS) in 1960. This group grew in popularity and was the vehicle for some of his early songs including “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.”. He studied at L.I.F.E. Bible College and attended Valley Junior College (San Fernando Valley) to prepare to teach. While there he formed a second gospel group, “The Disciples” (1965). Frequent appearances on the “Monday Night Sing” concerts in southern California hosted by composer and minister Audrey Mieir (1916-1996) led to a publishing contract with Manna Music and a recording contract with Light Records founded by song writer Ralph Carmichael (b. 1927). (See andraecrouch.com for further biographical information.)
Following an extensive composing and performing career that took him to the farthest reaches of the planet, the Crouch twins shared the ministry as senior pastors of the congregation their parents founded upon their death in 1993, Christ Memorial Church of Christ (Pacoima, California).
“Bless the Lord” (1973) was included in his album Just Andraé, which appeared that same year. This was the era of the scripture song in the evolving Contemporary Christian Music movement. (Lim and Ruth, 60-68) The refrain of this song is a direct quotation from Psalm 103:1 (KJV). The bridge, consisting of the five words “He has done great things,” summarizes the blessings of God enumerated in the remaining 21 verses of the Psalm. It is designed so that the singer can easily commit it to memory and sing as long as the Spirit moves. “Bless the Lord” became a staple of Crouch’s repertoire from 1973 on and was sung as the opening song at his funeral as his casket was brought into the church (youtube.com/watch?v=CmYIozddKCg).
In many ways, Andraé Crouch was a “crossover” artist before this was a common term, a designation for Christian performers who also found a voice in “secular” performing contexts. While he sang with and produced recordings with artists beyond the Christian context, Crouch was a crossover artist of a different sort – an African American Gospel singer who, through his concerts and songs, reached beyond his culture of origin to people around the world. He was received in the evangelical white Christian community as early as 1975 when he sang with a Billy Graham Crusade in New Mexico. He was moved to a deeper commitment to Christ upon hearing “He Touched Me” (1963) by Bill (b. 1936) and Gloria (b. 1942) Gaither at COGIC Convention in 1965, leading eventually to collaborations with them (Crouch, Through It All, 51-53). Perhaps it was most difficult to reach out at home. One more than one occasion when on tour, he and his group of musicians were rejected by white people attending his concerts when they needed a place to stay. The following quotation from his autobiography displays both his sense of humor and sense of God:
I was visiting on Sunday morning in a church that was without a pastor. While looking for one they were having different people preach. They introduced me and I said, ‘I’m very happy to be here this morning. I’m grateful for this wonderful invitation to worship with you. I don’t know if some of you know yet but I’ve just been appointed your new pastor.’
They stared at me like I was crazy and a loud murmur went through the white congregation! Then I said, ‘No, no, I’m just kiddin’ you,’ and everybody was laughin’. . . I try to use humor to ease different situations but I want people to know I’m out there for Jesus and I love everybody. . .
It seems to me that as Christians we can have a twofold blessing. I’m just praying that God will develop some people so they’ll see that God is black sometimes, so to speak, and that He is white sometimes. He is really no color at all, but His vessels are many different colors. I hope we can get to a place where all people can receive someone even if he [or she] is a little different. (Crouch, Through It All, 113)
Andraé Crouch, with Nina Ball, Through It All (Waco: Word Books, 1974).
Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth, Lovin’ On Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017).
Carlton R. Young and J. Richard Watson, “Andraé Crouch.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed August 28, 2018, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/a/andraé-crouch.
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 at Southern Methodist University.