Martha, Laurie’s mom sent me a link to this video. It’s a great rendition of Amazing Grace and a great story behind the song. I’d love it to be true, but from what I’ve read it doesn’t appear to be true. But I’d love to be wrong.
As mentioned in the video, the current melody we know as Amazing Grace is pentatonic which has been linked to African-American spirituals but the pentatonic scale can also be found in other traditions including Celtic and the music of Greece and southern Albania.
The words to the song were originally written in 1772 by John Newton, a slave trader.
The words first appeared in print in Newton’s 1779 Olney Hymns, that he worked on with William Cowper. The University of Texas at Austin has one of the few remaining copies of the hymnal, which was typical of the day and was printed with words only and no music.
Many historians have said that the tune we now know as Amazing Grace is a variant of New Britain which was likely not published until 1829.
The joining of the New Britain tune and the words to Amazing Grace may not have happened in print until 1835 in William Walker’s, Southern Harmony.
However, the first appearance of Amazing Grace with any tune may have been to the tune of Hephzibah which was published in A Companion to the Countess of Huntingdons Hymns in 1808, 29 years after the words were first published.
It is possible that Hephzibah was the tune Newton’s church may have sung the words with but it’s also possible they may have chosen any number of popular songs at that time. (Hmmm. Funny how that happens. Many of Martin Luther’s hymns were also sung to the tune of popular bar songs in his day. After all – why should the devil have all the good music?)
Over the years the words have also been sung to many differing tunes including the Gilligan’s Island Theme, House of the Rising Sun, and the Eagle’s Peaceful Easy Feeling.
But regardless of the tune you sing it to or where the tune came from, it’s hard to escape the power of God’s grace when you read the lyrics and know the history behind them.
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!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
John Newton, Olaney Hymns (London: W. Oliver, 1779)
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour, Has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending Love, Amazing Grace
UPDATE: This information came from a variety of web sources, including Wikipedia and Mark Rhoads site.