Amazing Grace

Album: various (1779)
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  • "Amazing Grace" is a hymn first published in 1779 by John Newton, an Englishman who worked on slave ships. On one voyage, they came across a nasty storm and Newton thought the ship was going to sink. After they made it through, Newton became deeply religious and - after a few years of backsliding into his old ways and reaffirming his faith - became a minister. He wrote this based on his religious conversion, and how God saved him even though he was a "wretch."

    The song fell out of favor in Newton's lifetime but was revived in the 19th century during the Second Great Awakening of religious fervor in America. It remains a popular hymn to this day.
  • Judy Collins' 1970 version, recorded at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, spent 67 weeks on the UK chart, which is longer than any other single by a female artist. Her version reached #5 in the UK and #15 in the US. It was reissued as a single in the UK the next two years, reaching #40 in 1971 and #20 in 1972.

    Singing in the choir on this rendition are a small group of friends and family Collins asked to help out. Among them are her brother Denver and the actor Stacy Keach, whom she was dating.
  • Other than the version by Judy Collins, the only other charting version of this song is a bagpipe-led instrumental by The Pipes And Drums And Military Band Of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which went to #11 in America and #1 in the UK, where it was the biggest-selling single of 1972.
  • Joan Baez sang this to open the Philadelphia stage of Live Aid in 1985. There were over 100,000 people in the crowd, and most of them sang it with her.
  • Arlo Guthrie performed this at Woodstock in 1969.
  • What is a "wretch," anyway? Merriam-Webster defines the noun:

    1: a miserable person : one who is profoundly unhappy or in great misfortune
    2: a base, despicable, or vile person
  • This song is often evoked in times of senseless tragedy when words fail to express the sentiment. In 2015, after nine people were killed in a South Carolina church by a crazed gunman, President Barack Obama sang "Amazing Grace" at a the funeral service for one of those killed, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

    The concept of Grace was the basis for the eulogy, where Obama said: "As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind. He has given us the chance, where we've been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and shortsightedness and fear of each other - but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He's once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift."

    A portion of Obama's singing was later used in the Coldplay song "Kaleidoscope."
  • Country star Josh Turner recorded a version of this for his 2018 gospel album, I Serve A Savior. He admitted it was quite a challenge to record something that stands out, given that "Amazing Grace" has been cut thousands of times. His solution was to do the first verse in 3/4 time with a string guitar, then transition to 4/4 with a full band.
  • Aretha Franklin did a stunning rendition of this song on January 13, 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles that was recorded for a documentary film and live album. Franklin's roots were in gospel music thanks to her father, the minister C.L. Franklin. At the time, Aretha was one of the most popular soul musicians in the world and a major force on the pop charts, but many had never heard her sing spirituals. Combined with another concert at Temple Missionary on January 14, the live album was titled Amazing Grace and released on June 1, 1972. Surprisingly, it crossed over to a secular audience and sold over 2 million copies in America, becoming the best-selling album of Franklin's career and the best-selling live gospel album of all time.

    The planned film though, was shelved. Sydney Pollack, who later became an A-list director thanks to the movies Tootsie, Out of Africa and The Firm, shot the footage, but didn't complete the film. After Pollack died in 2008, the director Alan Elliott revived the project, but ran into two major roadblocks. For one, the audio wasn't synched to the video, so editing it together into a cohesive work was a major technical challenge. Also, Franklin didn't want it released and sued to prevent it from being shown. Soon after Franklin died on August 16, 2018, her estate signed off on the film and on April 5, 2019, it was released in theaters, 47 years after it was recorded.
  • Garth Brooks sang this at Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20, 2021.

Comments: 22

  • Frederic from VirginiaThe Library of Congress has a collection of 3000 versions of the song.
  • Mamie from Cleveland, OhI never heard the song until I heard her version of it. It was not sung in the Catholic church. At least not in mine. only recently have I heard it sung in the Catholic church. Her version and the ROYAL SCOTS DRAGOON GUARDS version are number one with me. On a side note, while the author of the lyrics is known, the composer of the tune is UNKNOWN. And if the tune is credited to him in a hymn book, it is wrong. found that out on GAITHER GOSPEL HOUR.
  • Richard from Courtenay, BcJohn Newton was not a slave but a slave trader. The video on this page tells us that. That makes it even more impressive that he repented.
  • Patrick from Bournemouth, United KingdomCan anyone tell me who recorded an instrumental version of Amazing Grace that possible started using a Hurdy Gurdy?
  • Paula from Houston, Tx@vickie: It's played at funerals because when we come to the end of our lives, we all come face to face with God. He will require us to answer for every wrong thing we' ve done, and every unkind word we've spoken. None of us are innocent, we've all done wrong in our lives. The wrongs we've done have seperated us eternally from God. But God, in his infinite grace, sent us his son, who was completely innocent. Jesus died for us, his blood paid the debt for our wrongdoing. When we put our faith in Jesus, God forgives us. Even though we don't deserve it, we are saved by God's amazing grace.

  • Glenn from Dyersburg, TnI played this at my dad's and sisters funeral. It's beautiful and haunting, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. It's good to let it out and this song will do it.
  • Heather from Los Angeles, CaWell it was especially poignant because the guy had been a slaver. Can't get much lower than that on the human scum scale. I think when he says "that saved a wretch like me" it's also about stopping what you're doing and starting over. "Go and sin no more". He had to work at it. He didn't stop slaving even after the song was written. Shows that redemption does not always come quickly.
  • Nikita from Drogheda, IrelandI got my Confirmation name off this song, because I thought it was so pretty
  • Jessie Steele from Bartlett, Tnthis is really pretty,.
    Its one of the most understandable Gospel songs of the most meaningful and true.
    Praise the Lord
  • Jeff from Long Island, NyWilliam, I believe you're confusing "Amazing Grace" with "Farewell to Tarwathie," which was on the same album (not so coincidentally called "Whales and Nightingales"). It's an old whaling song from the mid-1800s that Judy Collins arranged with the songs of the humpback whales in the background, and it is remarkable.
  • William from Jacksonville, FlI believe Judy Collins had another version of Amazing Grace in the 70's. It was just her singing with the songs of the humpback whales in the background. I use to have it on cassette but lost it and been looking for this version ever since. It was truly moving version.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdVickie (Sidney),
    Because it's about redemption, forgiveness, submission to the Lord (to quote kevin/Canada, 3 comments before (below) yours).
  • Eric from Milltown, Inbest when played with bagpipes
  • David from Saltburn, EnglandI found the Judy Collins version of this song truly uplifting back in the 70s and still do. What was even better, it could be found on Juke Boxes pubs. The version that made the biggest impact on me was Cliff Richards singing it live and unaccompanied at Spree 73. There are not many
    performances that still have an impact 34 years later!
  • Yangyingying from Shanghai, ChinaThis song was also played in a Jananese TV series called The Huge White Tower, which talks about how doctors should cheat their patients. How to face life's end... very affecting.
  • Devin from Pomona, NyThis isn't just a religious song. I saw some documentary about this song in my AMT class at Ramapo College. This song is just about good in just every situation.
  • Vickie from Sydney, AustraliaCan anyone tell me why this song is a popular choice to be played at funerals?
  • Donna from Midstate, NcAbove all the religious songs in the world this one has the most meaning to me. In Him we live and in Him we are saved. How great is that? :-0)
    - Peace of Mind, NC
  • Michele from Lewisburg, WvThis song was played in its entirety at the end of a General Hospital episode where Sonny Corinthos was horribly shot (it was planned). This song made the whole thing so spooky and has made it one of the best moments on GH.
  • Kevin from Canada, CanadaI perrform this song. Its very simple and tends to make people cry. Its a wonderful song. About redcemtion and forgiveness and submission to the Lord. I think its the greates Gospel song ever.
  • Destiny from Rahway, Njit was just so pure and sweet
  • Adam from Jupiter, FlMore information about the background of this song/songwriter can be found at:
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