Sandra Crouch, influential musician, minister, sister of Andraé Crouch, dead at 81

Sandra Crouch sings at New Christ Memorial Church, San Fernando, California, circa 2005.(Photo: Robert Shanklin/Capital Entertainment)

Sandra Crouch, the twin sister and collaborator of gospel music legend Andraé Crouch, died earlier this month after an illness, her publicist said.

Crouch, 81, who died on March 17, will be honored with a musical tribute and funeral at New Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando, California, set for April 16-17, according to a Saturday announcement.

She died in a California hospital after having complications from treatment for a noncancerous lesion in her brain.

Though her brother's name is more widely known, Crouch was influential in both ministry and music — within and beyond the gospel genre.

She co-wrote "Jesus Is the Answer" with her brother — a 1970s hit on both Black gospel and white gospel radio stations. In the 1980s, she composed, produced and sang the lead on "We Sing Praises," for which she won a Grammy in 1984 for best soul gospel performance by a female, helping keep Light Records out of bankruptcy.

The label has continued to feature many other gospel acts, including The Winans, Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins Family and Commissioned, as noted by jazz and folk singer-songwriter Dara Starr Tucker in a social media post paying tribute to Sandra Crouch.

"If you grew up with gospel music in the '70s, '80s, '90s, then this label itself is iconic for you," said Tucker, who added that Crouch also played tambourine on hits of the Jackson 5. "For those reasons and so many more Sandra Crouch was a hugely influential figure in the world of gospel music."

At the time of her death, Crouch was senior pastor of New Christ Memorial, after her twin brother took the controversial step in 1998 of ordaining her as co-pastor of the Pentecostal church started by their parents decades earlier.

The ordination went against the ban of the Church of God in Christ, with which the congregation in the Los Angeles suburbs was affiliated. The Crouch siblings renamed the church, originally known as Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, after her ordination.

"I believe that when you have a sense within yourself that God is calling you to work in a particular part of the ministry, that no matter what gender you are, you should be able to answer that call," Sandra Crouch said in an interview with Religion News Service shortly after her ordination. "You don't get a driver's license to learn how to drive. You get a license because you know how to drive."

Her bio on the church's website notes that her passion for preaching was longstanding: "At the age of 5, Sandra would imitate great preachers using the back of the toilet as her pulpit."

Andraé Crouch, who became the church's pastor in 1995 after the deaths of his father and brother, pointed to the collaboration of his parents, Bishop Benjamin J. and Catherine D. Crouch, as inspiration for his move to ordain his sister.

"He would always say until probably a month before he died, 'I don't want you ever to talk about me and what I've done without giving the same credit to my wife,'" Andraé Crouch recalled of his father in 1998. "That's the same way I've been with my sister. That's why I made her my co-pastor."

Anthea Butler, chair of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World," remembers the media coverage when Sandra Crouch became a pastor.

"That ordination moment was a big moment," said Butler, who at the time was working on the dissertation that led to her first book. "They sort of operated in tandem: He was the big person on the gospel scene. She was to an extent, but I think that where she made the most impact was the ordination and being head of that church."

Assistant Pastor Kenneth J. Cook announced her death on the church's Facebook page.

"We as believers know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," he said in the statement. "We will forever cherish the memories and teachings we received from her."

Sandra Crouch performed with her twin in gatherings that ranged from a meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals to the crusades of evangelist Billy Graham.

She also joined her sibling in work with notable artists outside gospel, such as co-writing songs and performing percussion on the 1986 soundtrack for Quincy Jones' production of "The Color Purple."

On her own, she worked as a percussionist, playing on such recordings as "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond and "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin.

Music industry figures recalled how Sandra Crouch coordinated choirs for Grammy production numbers such as Michael Jackson's performances of "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "The Man in the Mirror" at the 1988 telecast.

R&B singer Candi Staton remembered behind-the-scenes moments with Crouch, including spending time together in 1984, when they were nominees in the same Grammy gospel category.

"There was no competition," Staton said in a statement to RNS. "Just friends hanging out. I think that is the truly genuine thing about Sandra is that she was all about the ministry and not the awards."

© Religion News Service