The Gospel Set

September 1, 2020
 

Bringing a Giant’s Music Ministry to a New Generation

Myron Butler: ‘His music has directly affected the soundtrack of the church, and it has also crossed racial lines and national boundaries. I go to Australia and Norway and different areas in Europe, and I can hear the direct impact of Andrae’ Crouch’s music.’

 

By Bob Marovich

 

Where are the musical tributes to the artist who wrote “My Tribute”? Who is remembering the man who taught the world to “Always Remember” Jesus?

Myron Butler wanted to know. So he took matters into his own hands.

Butler, a multiple Grammy and Stellar Award winning gospel artist, has released a multi-artist collection called My Tribute (Fair Trade/ Columbia/Red Alliance Media) to pay homage to Andrae’ Crouch, one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the past 50 years; an artist credited with revolutionizing the sound of urban gospel music and in the process embracing elements of Christian gospel music that brought those two worlds together. This exploration of the Crouch songbook was released on June 26, five days before what would have been Crouch’s 78th birthday. Crouch, who had been in failing health in his later years, died on January 3, 2015 after suffering a heart attack.

In essence, Butler wanted to build on a concept that was not uncommon in other genres—for instance, consider Sarah Vaughan’s “Songbook” series celebrating the masterpieces and masters of the Great American Songbook, and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Songbook, or indeed, the great country guitarist-producer Chet Atkins’s 1966 tribute titled Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles, and, from that same year, bluegrass giants Jim & Jesse honoring the country-influenced work of a true rock ‘n’ roll pioneer on their concept album, Berry Pickin’ in the Country: The Great Chuck Berry Songbook. Said Butler: “I believe the younger generations have to be introduced to the music that paved the way for them.”

But rather than send youth to YouTube to listen to the originals or cover the songs with exact fidelity to the original, Butler believes the classic gospel songs should be “repurposed for every generation’s ears.” That is what Butler and the artists on My Tribute have done.

Myron Butler speaks to Donnie McClurkin about the impetus for his tribute album dedicated to the songs of Andrae’ Crouch. Posted on YouTube by the Donnie McClurkin Show on August 20, 2020

‘Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,’ Myron Butler and Fred Hammond from the My Tribute album, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch

‘My Tribute,’ Myron Butler featuring Dayanna Redic, from My Tribute, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch. ‘…the lyric by itself is poetry,’ says Butler. ‘It leads you to God. It is one of those heartfelt messages that you cannot come in contact with and not respond.’

Butler has been an Andrae’ Crouch fan since grammar school, when he first heard “Jesus is Lord.” “I hadn’t heard music presented like that,” Butler remarked. “You heard that type of production quality in secular music, but this was church music! It reshaped the way I heard music.”

Butler’s admiration of Crouch goes beyond songwriting and arrangement. “Andrae’ Crouch’s mission was to further the gospel not just within the confines of one denomination, or even within the church, but to the world,” he said. “His music has directly affected the soundtrack of the church, and it has also crossed racial lines and national boundaries. I go to Australia and Norway and different areas in Europe, and I can hear the direct impact of Andrae’ Crouch’s music.”

My Tribute has been several years in the making, both in terms of planning and in securing artist contributions. “From Kirk Franklin to Fred Hammond to Kenny Lattimore, Anthony Hamilton, Dorinda Clark-Cole, all of them wanted to be a part,” Butler noted. “Then comes the logistical nightmare of putting all that together. And there’s the creative side—-which artist is best suited for what song? It’s not something you can pull together in two weeks!”

In terms of song selection, Butler had recommendations for some artists, while others, like Fred Hammond, knew exactly what they wanted to contribute (Hammond wanted to modernize “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus”). The background vocalists on My Tribute consist of members of Butler’s background group Levi, other singers from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and a choir. “I started off as a choir director,” Butler said, “so the choir paradigm is where I flourish.”

‘Take Me Back,’ featuring Kirk Franklin and Kelontae Gavin, from Myron Butler’s My Tribute, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch

‘Right Now,’ Myron Butler with Dorinda Clark-Cole, from Butler’s My Tribute album, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch

The musicians include those Butler has worked with in the past, including Michael Bereal, who worked with Andrae’. “These were the musicians who I knew could make it top-notch.”

During production, Butler fell in love with the title track all over again. “’My Tribute’ is a staple of the church, and because of that, you can sometimes lose sight of its epic beauty. But if you strip away the accompaniment, the melody and the voices, the lyric by itself is poetry. It leads you to God. It is one of those heartfelt messages that you cannot come in contact with and not respond.”

Leading “My Tribute” is an exceptionally talented but relatively unknown singer named Dayanna Redic. Butler learned about Redic “literally through a friend of a friend. She lives in the Oakland area. My friend suggested I check her out on social media. I asked her if she would be a part. She said yes, and it was just like that!”

“His Truth Still Marches On,” included in a Crouch medley on the album, was a new discovery for Butler. “It speaks to where we are as a nation and the world,” he said. Other selections include potential future singles “Oh It Is Jesus,” led by Donald Lawrence alumna Blanche McAllister-Dykes; and “Take Me Back” with Kirk Franklin and Kelontae Gavin.

It turns out that “All Things Well,” the album’s current single, is not a Crouch song at all but a composition co-written by Butler in the Crouch style. Butler considers it a personal ode to Crouch. “Andrae’ directly inspired the songwriter in Myron, and I wanted to have some sort of representation of that on the record.”

‘The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,’ featuring Michael Lampkin, from Myron Butler’s My Tribute album, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch

‘We Are Not Ashamed,’ featuring Kim Burrell, from Myron Butler’s My Tribute album, honoring the songs of Andrae’ Crouch

Are more tribute albums planned for the future?

“It is my ulterior motive that tribute records become the norm in gospel,” Butler responded. “I don’t think it has to be relegated to one person to do a tribute to a particular artist. For example, how would Fred Hammond interpret the Thomas Dorsey catalog? How would Donnie McClurkin interpret the James Cleveland catalog? It should be the culture we create.”

As for his next tribute album, Butler would like it to honor Thomas Whitfield. “He was the other most impactful artist on me, creatively. To this day, I sit in my music room and play his albums from beginning to end. He was just that wonderful.”

“It’s important that culture passes down its traditions,” Butler added. “It’s our responsibility to make sure these traditions are not forgotten.”

 

Deep Roots’ gospel editor Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author and radio host. He is the founder of the Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show. This interview is reprinted from the Journal of Gospel Music blog of June 19, 2020, with permission.

(Editor’s note: Actually, two other Andrae’ Crouch tribute albums exist. In fact, the 1996 Warner Bros. release titled Tribute: The Songs of Andrae’ Crouch (featuring the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Twila Paris, Michael W. Smith and Take 6) won a Grammy Award. In 2016, the Christian gospel singer Paul Lancaster (a member of the Booth Brothers gospel trio) honored Crouch’s music in My Tribute: The Classic Songs of Andrae’ Crouch featuring Paul Lancaster. Speaking to Timothy Yap of JubileeCast.com, Lancaster, noting that he “grew up during the ’70s in what was called the ‘Jesus music’ era,” said “there was a lot of great Christian music created within that time and among the best was Andrae’ Crouch. He was also among the very first influences on my life, musically and spiritually, all the way back to the early age of five years old. These songs all have been a part of the soundtrack of my life and now I am thrilled to have finally made a recording in tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of our time. Thank you, Andrae’, for leaving a wonderful legacy of truth set to music and to God be the glory!”)