CLEVELAND, Ohio – It occurred to me as the audience at the State Theatre Sunday listened to a collection of gospel music to honor the late Andrae Crouch:
If a critic gives such a show a bad review, is he or she subject to being struck down by a lightning bolt?
It’s something Crouch, known as “the father of modern gospel,” would have understood and appreciated, and it doesn’t matter if you call the fans an audience or a congregation.
And that’s pretty much what Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans and Marvin Winans turned the people into who were occupying the sanctuary formerly known as the State Theatre. Indeed, halleluhs and amens were far more common ways of appreciating a song than applause.
Power and testimony rolled through the entire room for more than two hours, as the singers – and the choir masquerading as an audience — rolled through nearly 40 of the songs from the Grammy- and Dove-winning career of Crouch, who died in January of congestive heart failure at the age of 72.
Crouch spent his life making music aimed at worshiping his God, and while there was a great deal of worship for the singer-songwriter-composer and producer, he’d have been happy because the focus remained on the deity.
McClurkin’s testimony – really, there’s no other word to call it – gave praise to Crouch essentially for saving his life.
McClurkin experienced tragedy and pain as a child that is almost unimaginable. His 2-year-old brother was killed by a speeding driver. Two of his sisters had substance abuse problems. And then he became the victim of sexual abuse.
At the age of 11, he found himself in the front row of a church, listening to Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, in October of 1971.
After the concert, an anxious McClurkin waited for Crouch outside.
“Hey, little boy,” Crouch told him. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you,” was his answer, McClurkin said.
Crouch knew McClurkin was a lost child, and so he decided to bestow on McClurkin the gift his own father had bestowed on him – the gift of being able to play piano and sing.
He “laid hands” on the boy and a life was changed.
The night was full of stories like that, from CeCe Winans and her brother, Marvin as well as McClurkin. The love and admiration for Crouch – by the performers and by the “congregation” – was almost palpable.
The beauty of the evening is that while it really was a Sunday night church service – minus the collection plate and sermon – it truly did show the impact of gospel music on rock ‘n’ roll.
Harmonies, wrenching lyrics and driving music delivered by a crackerjack band that had people moving on their feet are proof of the interconnectivity between the genres. What is that except a great rock ‘n’ roll song?
So it follows: Rock could not exist without gospel.
Let the church say amen.