Sandra Crouch was a legend of the American Gospel scene, performing with everyone from Janis Joplin to Michael Jackson. But church ministry always came first for the singer-songwriter and her twin brother, Andraé


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What do Madonna, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Janis Joplin, Free Willy and The Lion King all have in common?

The answer is that they’ve all benefitted from the voice of Sandra Crouch.

Sandra’s death on 17 March is a sad loss for everyone who loves Gospel music. Her twin brother Andraé may have had the bigger media presence, but Sandra was a key part of his success. She was not only a gifted singer but also a great songwriter, drummer and percussionist.

Early life

Sandra Elaine Crouch and her twin brother Andraé were born in Los Angeles to Benjamin J Crouch, a minister, and his wife, Catherine. The Crouches ran a dry cleaning business and a restaurant before, in 1951, Benjamin founded the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, part of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination.

Sandra’s gift for preaching became apparent before her gift for singing; aged five she would imitate preachers, using the toilet as a pretend pulpit! “The Bible said you got to live holy,” she would tell her imaginary congregation. “Jesus said you got to be saved!”

Whatever happens, on Sunday we’re in church preaching!

Sandra and Andraé were both singing in church by the time they were ten. While still in high school, they formed a group called the COGICS (the Church of God in Christ Singers) with fellow church members Sondra Williams, Frankie K Springs, Edna Wright, Gloria Jones and Billy Preston.

Of those, Jones would go on to become a star of Britain’s Northern Soul scene with the original version of ‘Tainted love’, while Preston’s keyboard skills earned him worldwide stardom and the title “the fifth Beatle”. In 1964, the COGICS released an album, It’s a Blessing, featuring the much-loved song ‘The blood will never lose its power’.

In the early 1970s, Sandra worked as a session percussionist in Hollywood, playing on albums by Neil Diamond and Janis Joplin, as well as on The Jackson 5’s breakthrough hits ‘ABC’ and ‘I want you back’. Andraé, meanwhile, was getting started with the group that would revolutionise Gospel music: Andraé Crouch & the Disciples.

Sandra eventually joined the group and co-wrote songs with him, including their hit ‘Jesus is the answer’. She remained with the group until it disbanded in 1982, after which she became a key member of the Andraé Crouch Singers.

Solo career

Sandra recorded three albums as a solo artist during the 1980s and early 1990s, all of which were Grammy nominated. The first one, 1983’s We Sing Praises, won her Best Female Soul Gospel Performance.

Through the 1980s and beyond, Sandra and her brother were the go-to people whenever a major pop act wanted to add a little Gospel sunshine to their music. The most notable of these was Michael Jackson, with whom they worked on the socially-conscious ballad ‘Man in the mirror’ (Bad, 1987) and ‘Will You Be There’, which featured on the Free Willy soundtrack (1994).

Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg came calling in 1986, seeking Gospel voices for The Color Purple. Elton John brought them on board for Disney’s The Lion King soundtrack. The list of pop projects they worked on includes Madonna’s ‘Like a prayer’, Rick Astley’s ‘Cry for help’ and Quincy Jones’s Back on the Block album (1989). Plans to record more songs with Michael Jackson were sadly cut short when Jackson died in 2009.

Sandra and her brother were the go-to people whenever a pop act wanted to add a little Gospel to their music

Andraé took over as pastor of Christ Memorial COGIC when their father died and, in 1998, he defied COGIC’s doctrinal opposition to female ministers and ordained Sandra as co-pastor of the church – which was subsequently renamed New Christ Memorial Church. Despite being in demand as performers, Sandra and her brother always prioritised their church ministry.

As Andraé said to me the last time I interviewed him: “Whatever happens, on Sunday we’re in church preaching!” After Andraé passed away in 2015, Sandra continued as lead pastor.

With both Crouch twins gone, a significant chapter in the history of American Gospel music is now closed. Sandra will be greatly missed – by family, by her congregation and by music fans the world over. Both on her own and together with her twin brother, she left a legacy that continues to be a blessing to many, more than half a century after those first recordings.