Traditional - Amazing Grace
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Traditional – Amazing Grace
“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written in 1772 by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807).
Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by others’ reactions to what they took as his recalcitrant insubordination.
He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy. After leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy. This moment marked his spiritual conversion but he continued slave trading until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether. He began studying Christian theology.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States, “Amazing Grace” became a popular song used by Baptist and Methodist preachers as part of their evangelizing, especially in the South, during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies. In 1835, American composer William Walker set it to the tune known as “New Britain” in a shape-note format. This is the version most frequently sung today.
With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognisable songs in the English-speaking world. Author Gilbert Chase writes that it is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns.” Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that the song is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic black spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. “Amazing Grace” became newly popular during a revival of folk music in the US during the 1960s, and it has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, in versions that have occasionally ranked on popular music charts.