Amazing Grace, How Sweet the History of The Song
John Newton - Amazing Grace
The Birth of Amazing Grace
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Thru many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Then when we'd first begun.
Created as a poem in 1772, It hardly seems possible that the lyrics of the most popular hymn in the English language was written by a man who once had the foulest mouth on the ship, Greyhound. John Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profain men the captain had ever met.
A defiant man, Newton manages again and again to escape danger, disease, abuse and even death. Read here about the life-threatening story which obviously had such a frightening impact, Newton found himself calling on God for mercy. This marked the beginning of his spiritual conversion.
In 1835, the poem was then set to music to a tune known as "New Britain" which is still known today. William Walker is the composer who first joined John Newton's verses to "New Britain" to create the song "Amazing Grace". It first appeared in Walkers Shape Note hymnal "Southern Harmony".
Grace is Unconditional Love
The year was 1725 when the first cry of baby John Newton was first heard. He was born in London to a Puritan mother and a stern sea-captain father.
His mother died just before his seventh birthday, and his father passed away when Newton was only 11.
Amazing Grace Was Born on Paper Here
It was in the town of Olney that Newton would write the words to 'Amazing Grace.'
William Walker - Composer
William Walker was born May 6, 1809. Martin Mills near Cross Keys, South Carolina claims his birthplace. He grew up near Spartanburg with the nickname, "Singing Billy".
Walker is best noted as an American baptist song leader and "shape note" singing master.
He died on September 24, 1875.
Beautiful Version of Amazing Grace
A Marriage Made in Heaven
The music behind the words to Amazing Grace was quoted by the author, Steve Turner, as a "marriage made in heaven." The rise and fall of the melody to the corresponding lyrics breathe life into the words and stir emotions within the participant.
Knowing the story behind this magnificent song certainly adds an appreciation that would otherwise go by the wayside.
First appearing in print in the 1779 edition of Olney Hymns, the song "Amazing Grace" has brought words of hope to enslaved people and comfort to mourners for nearly three centuries. The song has been part of the burial of presidents and services for paupers. It has been the cadence for civil rights marches and the theme of human rights campaigns. Penned by John Newton, the words "I once was lost, but now am found" played out in the author's life.
The World's Greatest Singers Have Performed Amazing Grace
The list of well-known singers who have performed Amazing Grace is almost endless. Here are some of the most famous ones:
- Clint Black
- Leanne Rimes
- Whitney Houston
- Elvis Presley
- The Three Tenors - Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti
- Any Grant
- Celine Dion
- Josh Groban
- Suzan Boyle
Interesting Facts About Amazing Grace
- Although "Amazing Grace" was recorded by the Byrds in June 1970, the track remained unreleased for thirty years.
- Joan Baez opened the US Live Aid concert (1985) with a performance of “Amazing Grace” – Around the world, Live Aid concerts raised millions for African famine relief.
- Amazing Grace is the most covered song in history with over 3200 recordings.
- It is considered the anthem of the Cherokee nation because it was sung on the Trail of Tears during 1838-39.
- William Walker added the current melody to the lyrics in his 1835 hymnal.
- There are 972 known musical arrangements of the hymn.
- The first gospel recording was made in 1926 by Reverend H.R. Romlin.
- Arlo Guthrie performed Amazing Grace at Woodstock.
- Between 1970 and 1972 a version of “Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins spent 67 weeks in the singles charts (the record for a female artist) and peaked at number 5.
- The final stanza " When we've been there 10,000 yrs ", was added by Edwin Othello Excell in 1909 and was taken from another hymn.
- John Newton was a former slave trader.
How to Sing Amazing Grace
I'd like to share a few suggestions to help you sound your best when singing this song. Good breath support is the key to controlling your voice. Breathe from the belly and not your chest, (Diaphragmatic Breathing).
I will be intentionally omitting commas in the following lyrics to indicate various interpretations and help with expressive singing:
- Amazing grace how sweet the sound. Sing this line on one breath. Finish the word "sound" by adding "uh" to the "d", (sound-uh).
- That saved a wretch like me. As you sing the word "wretch", sustain the "e", (pronounced Eh), and do not take a breath between "wretch and like". This will assure a smooth transition between these two words. The word "me" is the highest note in the song so prepare plenty of breath support to help place the note.
- I once was lost but now am found. As you sing this line, connect each word for a nice flow. Again, remember to add the "uh" sound for the word "found".
- Was blind - but now I see. Take a deliberate breath after the word "blind".
Now, you're ready to sing along with the karaoke version below.
Did you sing along with the video?
I hope you've found this story of the song "Amazing Grace" enlightening and enjoyed the sing-along. When we know a little about the background of a song and why it was written, the words become more meaningful. So many of us have sung this particular song at least once in our lives. For sure we have heard it often.
The next time you have an opportunity to sing Amazing Grace think of John Newton and William Walker and share their feelings as you sing these memorable lyrics.
“God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms.”
― John Newton, Amazing Grace
© 2010 Audrey Hunt