Saturday, October 1, 2022

EUR VIDEO THROWBACK: Why Gospel Great Andrae Crouch Refused to Appear in Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ Video

Gospel singer Andrae Crouch, winner of 7 Grammy Awards, has died at 72. CIRCA 1976: Singer and composer Andrae Crouch plays the piano as he sings in to a microphone in circa 1976.Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images Contributor
Singer and composer Andrae Crouch plays the piano as he sings in to a microphone circa 1976. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images Contributor

*On this day in 1989, Madonna began a three-week run at No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with “Like A Prayer,” a song infused with the gospel greatness of Andrae Crouch and his choir. But the pastor and masterful musician refused to have his choir go anywhere near the song’s music video. So what changed between the recording studio and the film set?

Here’s the story.

“Like a Prayer” was Madonna’s seventh US No. 1 and first song by a huge artist to debut in a commercial before arriving in stores or on radio. Her Pepsi ad, part of a $5 million endorsement deal, premiered during the Grammy Awards that year in February, and then aired weeks later on prime time television during the hottest sitcom of 1989, “The Cosby Show.”

Watch below:

As the story goes, Madonna and “Like a Prayer” co-writer Patrick Leonard met with Crouch to pitch him the song. A year earlier, the Andrae Crouch Choir had appeared with Siedah Garrett and The Winans on Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” (Listen below from 0:54 to 1:26)

Crouch was said to have carefully scrutinized the lyrics to “Like a Prayer” before agreeing to bring his choir on board, later telling the New York Times he wanted to “find out what the intention of the song might be. We’re very particular in choosing what we work with, and we liked what we heard.”

The lyrics include imagery of Madonna on her knees praying to the Lord, which Crouch said he appreciated. After listening to a demo of the song in his car, Crouch brought his singers into Burbank’s Jonny Yuma recording studio in September of 1988 and directed their now iconic vocal performance.

Listen below:

The Andrae Crouch Choir was recorded separately, inserted behind Madonna’s vocals in post-production, and the song was released from the “Like a Prayer” album on March 3, 1989 as its lead single. But the visuals that we saw in the Pepsi ad on March 2nd were not the visuals in the music video that premiered on MTV the next day.

Instead of footage from the Pepsi ad, which was titled “Make a Wish” and featured Madonna dancing with an 8-year-old version of herself, the ensuing music video quickly courted worldwide controversy with its depiction of burning crosses, racial profiling, stigmatas and alleged sexual energy toward a Black saint.

The video begins with the sound of police sirens and a guitar riff – reportedly played by Prince after Madonna asked him to appear on the album. Flashes of a crime and a Black man being arrested flash through Madonna’s head as she flees down a hill and into an empty, candlelit church. There, she begins praying before the caged statue of a saint resembling the arrested Black man. She’s shook. The statue, played by Leon (aka Cynthia Bailey’s ex-husband Leon Robinson), sheds a single Denzel tear. Now she’s shook and feeling guilty. While reclined on a pew, Madonna dreams that she’s falling from the sky until a friendly Black woman catches her and tosses her back up. Back inside the church, she returns to the statue and kisses its feet. The statue comes to life as the wrongly-accused Black man she had seen earlier. He kisses her forehead and leaves the church. She grabs a knife that he left behind, and it accidentally pierces her palms, making the sign of the stigmata. Suddenly, an adult and junior choir appear to sing the hook. Madonna flashes back to the crime, goes to the jail to report what she saw, and Leon is released into her arms. All the while, the scenes are intercut with footage of Madonna singing and dancing in front of a bunch of burning crosses, kissing Leon and dancing in front of the choir, led by the woman Madonna dreamed had tossed her back from the depths of her fear.

Watch below:

Andrae Crouch reportedly wanted no part of this video after reading the treatment. Not agreeing with the religious imagery, he pulled his singers from the project. The choir in the video is not his, and the woman who tosses Madonna toward redemption and eventually lays hands on her, is not Andrae’s sangin’ twin sister Sandra Crouch, whose scene-stealing riffs are on the record.

While most music critics loved the video and its theme of a woman doing the right thing, this video wreaked all kinds of havoc. The Vatican condemned it, called for a national boycott of Pepsi and PepsiCo’s subsidiaries, including KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and Pope John Paul II got fans to boycott the singer during her tour stop in Italy. Other religious and family groups called the video blasphemous. Soon and very soon, Pepsi dropped Madonna over threats of boycotts and the commercial was never seen again – until the invention of YouTube.

 

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