MICHEL MARTIN, host: To quote an old friend of mine, it's not that words fail. It's that we've devalued them. These days, just about any artist with more than one hit is a legend and anybody who's been around more than a minute is a pioneer.
But in the world of gospel music, Andrae Crouch is, indeed, a legend. For nearly five decades, he has pioneered the sound of contemporary gospel music.
Here is his 1970s hit called "Take Me Back."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME BACK")
ANDRAE CROUCH: (Singing) Take me back, take me back, dear Lord, to the place where I first believed you. Take me back, take me back, dear Lord, where I first believed.
MARTIN: "Take Me Back" went on to earn Crouch and his group, The Disciples, a Grammy back when Andrae Crouch was a star and worked with the stars, including Michael Jackson, Elton John and Madonna.
Now, after eight Grammy Awards and scores of other accolades, Andrae Crouch continues his musical journey with an album titled, appropriately enough, "The Journey," and he's with us now.
Andrae Crouch, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
CROUCH: Thank you for inviting me. It's pretty nice.
MARTIN: Why did you call it "The Journey" and what was the inspiration for this album?
CROUCH: Well, actually, my coproducer - his name is Mano Hanes. Well, he's been listening to me since he was a kid and so he kind of watched my career as it has grown and he always wanted to produce something with me and he got this idea. He said, you know what? Ever since I've been a kid, I've been listening to you. So he said, it's just like a journey that you've been on and I've watched it. And he said, boy, it would be great to be able to coproduce with you. And I said, well, let's try it.
MARTIN: It sounds like you had so much fun. I mean, you're experimenting with all these different musical genres. You're working with, you know - collaborating with all these other artists.
Was it really that much fun or are you just putting on a good face for us?
CROUCH: Well, I was doing all the learning, I thought, because the people that I've worked with - they have been sort of my idols and I wanted to know how they'd produce this particular sound.
But very rarely would I get in a situation with them that they were reproducing something that I've been through before, so everything they did when I was around, it was kind of brand new to them and brand new to me. But I was checking it all out to make sure that I was picking up what I was supposed to be picking up for my future, you know.
MARTIN: Okay. Always learning and growing. Well, let me just play the first track. I want to play the lead single for the album. It features Marvin Winans, who comes from the famous Winans family, of course, and the track is called "Let the Church Say Amen." Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN")
THE WINANS: (Singing) Make this your response - amen - to whatever you say - amen - from the healing of your body - amen - to the raising of the dead - amen. No matter how you feel - amen - or how your world is reeling - amen - battle on through the night - amen - because you're going to win this fight - amen.
MARTIN: How did you decide who you wanted to work with? That's beautiful, by the way, I think. But you knew that, right?
CROUCH: Yeah. Well, Marvin and the group, The Winans - when I first heard them, I was blown away. They came to one of my concerts and they sang for me backstage and I said, hey, how would you guys like to open up the program tonight? And they were blown away that I'd invited them to do that, but I said, if you sing too good, I'm going to have to pull you off the stage, you know.
MARTIN: Well, that's not very Christian.
CROUCH: Yeah. Well, it's energy, you know. And so, they sang and the people just screamed and then I said, boy, I'd sure like to produce something on you guys. So I invited them to L.A. And I didn't like the name of the group. I think they were called The Testimonials. I said, no, that's a little bit too churchy. And so I said, how about if we use your name, The Winans? And so the dad said, yeah, that sounds okay.
MARTIN: He said, amen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN")
WINANS: (Singing) Amen. It's God's love. I believe (unintelligible). Let the church say amen. Lift your hands, lift your heart, lift your heart.
MARTIN: Do you think that we are past this whole gospel/secular divide? Obviously, the messages are going to be distinct in gospel, but do you think we're past this whole notion that only certain kinds of music and only certain sounds are appropriate for gospel and that everything else is kind of secular, clubby, doesn't belong? Do you think we're past that?
CROUCH: I think that some people still think that the formula other than gospel still is not strong enough to get that crossover appeal to people enough that they would play it all the time or non-church people would accept it, but I disagree. I think that if something's really good and it touches that part of their heart that has been untouched or maybe it has been touched, but they never wanted to admit it, I think that when they get back to that, I think that we are still in a place that people enjoy it the way it's supposed to be enjoyed.
And I think that when we like songs in gospel and it hits that part of the soul or the mind that brings back familiarity to the person or to the listeners, I think we zero in on something that will always be needed.
MARTIN: We're going to let you go so you can keep doing what it is that you're doing.
Andrae Crouch is a multiple Grammy Award-winning gospel artist. His latest album, "The Journey," is in stores now and he was kind enough to join us from NPR West in Culver City, California.
Andrae Crouch, thank you so much for joining us.
CROUCH: Thank you.
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