Gospel Throwback: Andrae Crouch, “Perfect Peace”

Gospel Throwback: Andrae Crouch, “Perfect Peace”

Andrae Crouch & The Disciples, 

“Perfect Peace”

This Is Another Day, Light Records (1976)

There are certain songs that not only embody a particular idea, but also capture for the listener the spirit of its time. So when most of us think of classic 70s disco-funk, our minds often drift to Curtis Mayfield, Sly & The Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, or similar artists. But my mind immediately goes first to this song, the blistering opener from his classic recording, This Is Another Day.

It’s a bit of stretch for me to call this a song from my era, since I was born the year this song was released and didn’t come to appreciate it until I was seven or eight. But given that my parents had the good sense to play edifying music around the house instead of songs like “Lady Marmalade” and “It’s Raining Men,” I learned how to groove and shimmy to this one instead.

And man, I’m glad they did.

Andrae Crouch, eight-time Grammy award-winning artist and gospel music pioneer

One of the things that I love about this song is the use of sonorous contrast. When the intro comes in, sounding all smooth and dangerous and Shaft-like (come on, you know I wasn’t sheltered my whole life), the whole groove is rooted in C# minor, and as all of the wah-wah guitars and percolating percussion and cascading horns come to a crescendo, the melody kicks in – not in its relative major of E, but up a whole step to F# major.

What results (for those of you turned off by the music theory geek speak) is a sense of unexpected discovery that underscores the title. In the middle of a furious musical maelstrom, the melody lands softly onto a pleasant musical bed, like a baby sleeping soundly in the eye of a hurricane. And as the melody winds its way through the chord progression, the musical cues lend a sense of depth and pathos by reinforcing its meaning.

And considering its meaning, it’s no wonder this song was released in 1976. This was the same era of classics like Stevie Wonder’s Songs In the Key of Life and Steely Dan’s Aja. This was a tumultuous time in American history. The Cold War was beginning to thaw. The OPEC oil embargo had a crippling effect on the economy. The war in Vietnam had been raging for years, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” had become a rallying cry for a generation of disenfranchised people tired of systemic inequity and senseless violence. There was turmoil abroad and turmoil at home.

(Not all that different from now, is it?)

When Andrae and his singers echoed the words of Isaiah 26:3You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You – it wasn’t just a pleasant sentiment to be displayed on someone’s desk or refrigerator door. They were fiercely proclaiming Jesus’ promise to supernaturally uphold his children in the midst of life-threatening storms.

So for me as an adult, “Perfect Peace” is no longer just an exercise in nostalgia or an instructive in how to craft a funky tune, though it surely works as both. For me, it’s a reminder to trust God and don an essential piece of His full armor, one that allows me to walk freely in His plans, despite my fear of the unknown. I can put on my headphones and, for at least a few minutes, relax, knowing that God’s got this whole future thing on lock.

So break out your afro wigs and your platform shoes, and then crank up your speakers this classic gospel throwback. You can get it on Amazon MP3 here, and don’t forget to check out this incredible Norwegian cover here.

Whitney’s Final ‘Sparkle’

Whitney’s Final ‘Sparkle’

SHINING STARS: Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks star as a mother and daughter in ‘Sparkle,’ the remake of the 1976 classic about the highs and lows of a family singing group during the Motown era.

Sparkle hits movie theaters this weekend with a star-studded cast of black actors and entertainers. Based on the 1976 classic, this remake is a cautionary tale that chronicles the story of three sisters in their rise to fame as they navigate the twists and turns of the music industry.

American Idol-winner Jordin Sparks, in her film debut, plays the lead role of Sparkle, while pop star Cee Lo Green, actors Derrick Luke and Carmen Ejogo, and comedian Mike Epps appear in supporting roles. But there’s no doubt that throughout the film, all eyes will be on the late Whitney Houston, who plays the mother of the aspiring girl group.

In the film, the three sisters (Sparks, Ejogo, and Teka Sumpter) move up the record charts as they sing and dance in high fashion. In their search for fame, the girls are swept away by mesmerizing men, challenged by the demands of life, and overcome by the dreams that almost tear their family apart.

It’s quite ironic, then, that this is the last project Whitney Houston completed before her untimely death on February 11, the night before the Grammy Awards. At 48 years old, Whitney accidentally drowned in her hotel bathtub. The coroner’s report later revealed that cocaine was a contributing factor in her death.

After her tragic passing, the world reflected on Whitney’s life and how we watched her grow up to fulfill her dreams. Much like the girls in the movie, she was beautiful, rich, and famous. She had it all, and yet there was immense sorrow which ultimately led to her demise. Until her final days, she continued to smile, pursue her dreams, and to profess her love for Christ. And she continued to sing!

Singing, of course, will be a highlight in Sparkle, which features songs from the original film written by the great Curtis Mayfield as well as new compositions by R. Kelly. The movie was preceded by a soundtrack release which includes Whitney’s final musical recordings. In what is sure to be a highlight of the film, she sweetly sings “His Eye is on a Sparrow,” a song that encourages us to sing even in the midst of suffering and sorrow. And even in her absence, Whitney’s performance emanates with hope.

Yet I wonder, what is a proper response when singing and dream chasing is the catalyst for sadness? The painful reality is there are almost too many parallels between Whitney’s life and the lives of the girls in the movie. I wonder what kind of responses that will elicit in the theaters this weekend. As we sit and watch, I wonder if we will “Celebrate” as she and Jordin encourage us to do in their recently released single from the soundtrack. I wonder if we will shed a tear at the new images of Whitney, her gentle grace, or the sound of her voice as she lifts her hands to worship God during the church scene. Will we pause and reflect?

You see Sparkle causes us to consider important questions. What happens when we get exactly what we want? Will we hold on to our family, faith, and friendships? Will we hold fast to our dreams at all costs? And what happens to us — our identity — when those dreams are lost or deferred? How will we respond when our dreams are fulfilled? Will we sparkle? Will we shine like a light, or will our lights flicker and go out like an ember in the darkness?

Whatever the case may be, Sparkle opens tomorrow, August 17, in theaters everywhere. So grab your girlfriends, get a date, and head to a cineplex near you. And then let us know what you think.