Anyone asked to describe the inspiring legacy of Andraé Crouch would have trouble finding the appropriate words. After introducing his musical talent to the world over five decades ago, many have come to praise Crouch as a Gospel icon. Known for penning some of the African American church's most endearing and time-tested songs, Crouch is truly a legend in his own time. A prolific songwriter and multiple award-winning artist, he has been recognized as the impetus in bringing Gospel music into the mainstream. A musician and choir director extraordinaire, he's worked with the music industry's most popular artists including Elton John, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson.
Affectionately called The Father of Modern Gospel, Crouch's songs include favorites such as "My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)", "Take Me Back", "Soon And Very Soon", and the newly-minted classic, "Let The Church Say Amen'. His work has been on display on the big and small screens including The Color Purple's "Maybe God's Trying To Tell You Something" and the theme song to the sitcom, Amen. Singlehandedly, Crouch has changed the genre of Gospel music.
To capture the music phenomenon in one of his most dynamic, anointed performances, Riverphlo Entertainment (spearheaded by industry veteran Luther "Mano" Hanes) incredibly encapsulated the life, the music and the journey of Andraé Crouch on a commemorative edition project, The Andraé Crouch Collection - the Live In Los Angeles Concert DVD. With an exceptional group of musicians and singers, the full concert DVD contains over two hours of soul-stirring, foot-stomping and hand-clapping songs which take fans back down memory lane to the place where they heard that first Andraé Crouch song.
In addition to viewing Crouch's riveting performances, fans can see up-close and personal interviews with music industry trailblazers such as Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Rance Allen and Donnie McClurkin as they speak on the musical contributions of the Hollywood Walk of Fame star. Leading the Gospel music industry with his God-given musical abilities, Crouch made history being the first Gospel artist selected by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to be featured on the network, with portions of the Andraé Crouch Collection - the Live In Los Angeles Concert DVD airing nationwide.
Over the past five decades, Crouch's musical gift has made room for him not only in the Gospel arena, but also in both television and film. His musical talent can be heard in the Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated movies, "The Lion King" and the aforementioned "The Color Purple". In addition, Crouch's expertise has been heard on the movie soundtracks of "Free Willy" and "Once Upon A Forest".
A musician, composer, recording artist, songwriter, arranger and producer, Crouch's musical library includes many familiar songs such as the traditional "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power", "We Are Not Ashamed" and "I'll Be Thinking Of You". The Gospel artist's most recent GRAMMY Award Nominated project, The Journey, introduced the mega-hit, "Let The Church Say Amen", which remained on the Billboard Top Gospel Songs Chart for over 60 consecutive weeks and was named the Top Gospel Song of 2012. Both the song and the artist were nominated for five 2013 Stellar Awards (Artist of the Year, Song of the Year for "Let The Church Say Amen", CD of the Year for The Journey, Traditional CD of the Year for The Journey and Traditional Male of the Year).
For his exemplary contributions to the music industry, the Gospel legend was the honored recipient of the 2013 ASCAP "Gospel Icon" Award; the 2013 "Keeper of the Flame" Award for Social Justice Through Music at the African American Church Inaugural Ball held in Washington, D.C., in celebration of the re-election of President Barack Obama; and numerous other prominent awards. He's been recognized with nine GRAMMY Awards, an Oscar nomination and countless Dove, Stellar, and NAACP Image Awards, along with many other accolades. With 18 solo albums, Crouch has also been inducted into The Gospel Music Association's Music Hall of Fame and the recipient of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Gospel Music Lifetime Achievement Award. Likewise, Crouch was also honored at Verizon's How Sweet The Sound Choir Competition finale event where he was presented with the "Living Legend Award" by fellow icon Chaka Khan.
With a recording career that began in the 60s, Crouch was a key figure in the Christian movement of that era. His first musical group was the COGICs (Church of God In Christ Singers) and later, he formed The Disciples in 1965. The ensemble catapulted Crouch to notoriety and they toured in over 70 countries. Later, he composed or arranged songs for artists such as Ringo Starr, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Madonna, Quincy Jones and countless others. In addition to Paul Simon emulating the iconic figure in recording some of the Gospel legend's music, Crouch's invaluable musical proficiency and wisdom enriched the colossal legacies of both the king of Pop, the late Michael Jackson, and the king of Rock and Roll, the late Elvis Presley. He is undoubtedly a pivotal force in the music industry who has transcended multiple genres of music including contemporary light rock, pop, jazz, African/world music, and of course, Gospel.
Gifted with the ability to sing as well as preach the Gospel, Crouch serves as Senior Pastor of New Christ Memorial Church of God In Christ in San Fernando, CA. A trailblazer, Andraé Crouch has given sacred music lovers a soundtrack for the church. The "Live In Los Angeles" Concert DVD is part of The Andraé Crouch Collection which also includes his new CD, the GRAMMY and Stellar Award nominated The Journey, and a Bonus DVD of the making of The Journey. The Andraé Crouch Collection is not available in stores, but can be purchased by logging on to www.acthejourney.com or by calling1.800.890.1605.
We all know this life comes with challenges. Gospel artist Gary Samuels seems to have had more than his share. Bouts with cancer, paralysis, partial blindness, sexual abuse, witnessing the shooting of his mother and the death of a child are just some of the life-changing challenges he's had to endure. Where others have succumbed to life's heartaches, Samuels seems to have conquered each one. He knows that it's only by the grace of God that he's not only survived, but succeeded. Every problem and its ultimate solution has given Samuels a point of reference to sing from. The multi-octave vocalist, with a golden voice and a tonal quality that rivals some of today's best singers, is truly a divine instrument.
Raised in Harlem, New York City, Gary was one of fifteen children. Surrounded by music, his mother was a pianist and singer; his stepfather, who did not live in the home with Gary, was a Jazz pianist. In addition to his parents, his Grand Aunt Madam was a strong influence as well teaching Gary his first song entitled "Wooden Church on A Hill". He loved music; it was a personal escape, especially after his life took a bad turn.
"Being raised in a home where neither my birth father nor stepfather was present, I was left without the male leadership that was needed," explains Gary. "A male teacher decided to take me under his wing. The summer that I was to turn nine, two major changes happened. In July, I watched as my mother was shot by my stepfather and then in August, the teacher, who we will call Mr. O, was given permission by my mother to keep me for the remainder of the summer. He did everything that a father would do for his child - except I was molested by him and his friends."
When Gary mentioned the molestation to his aunt, she accused him of lying. It wasn't until his mother saw evidence that she and his aunt believed him. But by that time, years had passed and the damage had been done. Mr. O had also introduced Gary to drugs and his life started spiraling out of control. Promiscuity followed and he fell deeper into drugs. Other traumatic events followed including a face-first fall at a skating rink causing partial paralysis and then while in college the diagnosis of a malignant tumor.
Going back to the one place where he knew he could find answers, he went back to church. Gary found himself at Progressive Baptist Church and heard the message, "There Is Room at the Cross". He says, "Rev. Walter Martin prayed for me and asked me if I believed God would heal me. Out of obedience, I said 'yes!'" Gary's surrender opened the door to complete healing from drugs and alcohol; shortly thereafter, the cancerous tumor disappeared - while he was listening to Donald Vails' recording of "Jesus, I Love You".
In spite of it all, Gary Samuels has always had a song on his lips and a love for Gospel music. As a youngster, he was a member of his family's singing group called "The Samuels Singers" and the ensemble toured the country. As an adult, he broadened his musical horizons by singing for countless choirs including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Choir, The United Negro College Fund Choir, The Orangeburg Gospel Choral Union, The Serenity Singers, The Eternal Light Community Singers, Just By Faith Gospel Choir, United In Christ Fellowship Choir and United Eternal Voice In Christ Choir.
As he continued to sing, his love for the musical art form grew, but it always seemed like he was the loudest in the bunch. "I was always referred to as 'big mouth,'" recalls Gary. "I just couldn't sing soft - although I tried. People would tell me that in a group of dozens of singers, they could hear me!" Not only was the vocalist a stand-out, but because of his unique gifting of a multi-octave range, he could easily float between tenor, alto and soprano, making it a challenge for choir directors to determine what part he should sing. "When you ask me what's in my natural vocal range, it depends of the day of the week," Gary quips. It wasn't until he heard vocalist Linda Hopkins sing that he knew he wasn't alone. At the performance, he heard Hopkins glide between soprano and tenor effortlessly and realized that he truly had something special.
His gift has truly made room for him with opportunities to sing in front of Presidents and the Pope; he's experienced what some only imagine. Living a dream, he's been able to act out his life on stage with his play called, "Gospel Of The Blues". With original music and riveting performances, the play merges two of his musical loves: Gospel Music and Blues. The play is a testament to the power of faith and is a theatrical display of Gary's testimony.
God's favor has followed Gary and he's been blessed to sing for President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, President George Bush, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. He's performed at The Apollo and Radio City Music Hall. He's sung with Opera Diva Grace Bumbry and Jazz Great Wynton Marsalis and opened up for Kelly Price, Donnie McClurkin, and Mary Mary. Although he's thrilled at the many opportunities he's had to sing for notable people, he receives the most joy from singing at nursing homes, senior centers and prisons.
He's tackled the role of Minister of Music at Bethel AME Church in Connecticut and his home church, Progressive Baptist Church, as well as Baptist House of Prayer, both in Harlem. It was at the Little Mt. Calvary Baptist Church with Rev. James Peoples that he began to write music; ultimately his musical catalog would encompass close to 200 songs. In November 2006 just before his mentor Rev. Leroy Ricksy of Church of the Resurrection passed away, he summoned Gary to his bedside and prayed a prophetic prayer that his music would take him around the world, and millions would be blessed by hearing it. Since that time, he's shared his musical talent overseas singing in Africa, Spain and other countries.
Gary added the titles "Recording Artist" and "Co-Producer" to his burgeoning list of roles when he recorded two CDs, I Believe in 2009 and I Can in 2010. The ground-breaking video for the single, "I Believe", was entered in the 2010 BET Awards for Best Gospel Video. The first two projects were followed by Grace of God, an EP featuring the title tune, "Grace of God", and other moving tunes, released in 2012.
But success hasn't come without a price. The verse, "to whom much is given, much is required", could have easily been written for the psalmist who has experienced tragedy after tragedy. But through it all, Gary has allowed the Lord to take the lead. Seeing his life as a set of songs, the title of the new Versatile Entertainment CD is called Soundtrack of My Soul. All of his experiences have been poured into his music as God has written songs through him. "When I sing about God's healing power and his saving power, it's not from a movie screen or something someone told me," says Samuels. It's what I know. I know it for myself."
Gary's testimonies have been the impetus for the upcoming project scheduled to drop in the summer of 2013. His label head and producer, Jaeson Marks, has been in the studio putting the finishing touches on the CD. Fans of the artist's unique vocal and musical style won't have to wait much longer for the forthcoming release. For Gary, it's been worth the wait. Scripture says that the ending of a thing is better than its beginning. That verse certainly could have been written with Gary Samuels in mind.
Life can be a rat race. Job, family, church and other responsibilities can fill our days, and sometimes, even the most dedicated Christian can skip time with God. But what are we missing when we miss our time with God? Gospel artist Rob Mercer understands the value of being alone with God. It's during those times that he senses the presence of God the most.
"I'll never forget the time I left Norfolk, VA in route to Washington, DC with a plan to catch up on my favorite sports talk radio shows the entire drive," recounts Rob. "I made a quick stop by 7-11 to pick up a bottle of water and some snacks and headed toward Highway 64. Somewhere between 7-11 and Highway 64, I began to enjoy the silence and serenity that engulfed the automobile. I began to think about how God has truly enriched my life. I thought about how that day had been full of blessings at the church where I ministered. I thought about the wonderful family that He had chosen for me during this life. Then I thought about the scripture in Joshua 1 where He tells us if we meditate on His word day and night, we'll have good success. Before I knew it, my alone time with God had lasted over 3 hours and I was pulling up in my driveway still without a clue of what was going on in the sports world."
There are things that we can only experience with God when we are by ourselves, far away from the hustle and bustle of life. It's during those still and quiet times - when God has our undivided attention - that He can speak to us.
Rob says, "I've realized that every major move of God has happened when I was alone with Him. Now there have been some powerful and amazing times in fellowship with family, friends and the body of Christ. But it was in the alone time that He called me into ministry. It was in the alone time that He told me to lay hands on myself and I found healing for a pain in my leg that had lasted over a year. It was also in the alone time that He freed me from the indignity and anguish of going through a divorce. Not to mention, the songs and sermons that He has given me over the years that continue to bless people week in and week out."
Rob's alone times with God have also helped him to realize that it's God alone who has total and complete authority over his life - although sometimes that's not readily apparent. In this world, it's easy to believe that man has ultimate power. Man has thrived on power since the beginning of time. Countries, politicians, militaries, and even celebrities wield it at a whim and those who have it can't seem to get enough of it. But does man really possess power? With one hurricane, tornado or flood, man's illusion of power is shattered and he finds himself looking up to the true power source.
Mercer understands that God alone is in control. The up-and-coming singer-songwriter recently released a new song called, "God Alone". A soft and pensive tune, "God Alone", reminds the listener of the autonomy of God. The song's lyrics speak of the amazing command He has over the universe: "Completely sovereign, absolute rule, director of all things, none compares to you, unlimited power, ancient of days, exclusive authority, we don't have a say; You are God alone."
The modern-day psalm is perfect to sing during those intimate times with God. The song, a track on Rob's debut release, The Photo Album, is one of the highlights of the new CD. The single, already soaring up the BDS Gospel Charts, has a complementary concept video showcasing Rob during his alone times with God.
For Mercer, it's in those alone times with the Lord, where he finds direction. It's in those times he's learned how to inspire others. "I have realized that I'm never alone," says Mercer. "I have a God who never leaves me nor forsakes me. He is an omnipresent God who is with us at all times. When you can't see His hand or understand His ways, you may think He's deserted you, but what the alone time teaches us is that Isaiah 55:8 is right: 'His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways".
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