It was a pleasant surprise watching an ‘Amazing Grace‘ article make its journey across a handful of alternative media sites yesterday, eventually reaching a few mainstream media outlets like Fox News - and by amazing grace - The Wasington Post and The Huffington Post. Part of the phenomenon is due to the article ‘somehow’ navigating its way through the Associated Press filters, and when that happens, mainstream media toes the line. On this occasion, I’m glad they did.
First, some ‘Amazing Grace’ history snippets…
(Wiki) ”Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn written by John Newton, with a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.
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 his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed into the Royal Navy and became a sailor, eventually participating in the slave trade. One night a terrible storm battered his vessel so severely that he became frightened enough to call out to God for mercy, a moment that marked the beginning of his spiritual conversion. His career in slave trading lasted a few years more until he quit going to sea altogether and began studying theology.
“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, and it may have been chanted by the congregation without music. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England.
In the United States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.
Author Gilbert Chase writes that “Amazing Grace” is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns”, and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually.
Amazing Grace Is A Global Music Sensation
(Daily Caller) It has endured for more than two centuries, offering hope to those grieving or searching for meaning to life. With its simple melody and message of salvation, “Amazing Grace” is a global music sensation.
As music lingo would describe it, the song is No. 1 with a bullet. Will Elvis’ “Hound Dog” last 200 years? Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”? Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”? “Amazing Grace” already has and keeps on going.
Says Cliff Barrows, who led choirs all over the world for decades at Billy Graham crusades: “We will sing this song until Jesus comes and it may be one of our theme songs in heaven around the throne.”
According to www.allmusic.com, “Amazing Grace” has been recorded more than 6,600 times.
“It may be the most recorded song on the planet,” said Jerry Bailey, executive at Broadcast Music, Inc., of Nashville.
The song was written in 1779 (or a few years earlier) by John Newton, an English poet and clergyman who died in 1807. Newton, as a young man, deserted the English Navy, was recaptured and punished and became involved in slave trading. He later had a religious awakening during a storm at sea before becoming a prolific hymn composer.
More than two centuries later, it’s a fixture across spiritual and secular culture. It’s been played at some of the country’s most somber gatherings: Memorial services following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing and the attack that killed 32 students at Virginia Tech.
It crosses denominational doctrine, with no references to Jesus Christ, just God and Lord. It’s unfailingly positive with no mention of hell or the devil. The word “grace” is mentioned three times in the second verse alone.
The lyrics are mostly one syllable and, with few high notes and just one octave, are easy to sing. It’s no challenge like “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“It’s a perfect marriage of text and tune,” says Mack Wilberg, music director of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “It just resonates in a way that few other hymns do.”
The familiar, inspirational first verse:
“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.”
Subsequent verses offer reassurance, protection and fulfillment.
Its broad appeal is reflected in the wide-ranging albums where it found a home, from collections of reggae love songs to bagpipe anthems and mandolin pickers.
Although Judy Collins probably recorded the best known commercial version, Joan Baez became linked to the song by singing it in the 1960s during Vietnam War demonstrations. Still, “Amazing Grace” does not mention social issues and is not considered a “protest” hymn.
It’s been played in movies including “Alice’s Restaurant” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
A 2006 movie, “Amazing Grace” starring Ioan Gruffudd, was about the life of 18th Century anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce. Albert Finney played Newton, a friend of Wilberforce.
The song also was the subject of at least one book, “The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song, Amazing Grace,” written by Steve Turner and published in 2002 by Harper Collins.
The song has had international use, too. It was performed in English and Chinese by a children’s chorus at a worship service in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics with President George Bush attending.
“It has universal appeal,” Wilberg said.
A few alternate versions have come into use, including one verse apparently taken from the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
More than a century after that book, the song was a standard during civil rights demonstrations.
In music industry circles, “Amazing Grace” is public domain. This means no one gets royalties for the song except those who have written alternate versions of it.
Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus,” a rival to “Amazing Grace” as a spiritual favorite, has been recorded about 500 times, far fewer than “Amazing Grace.”
And “How Great Thou Art” didn’t get popularized in the U.S. for 170 years after “Amazing Grace” was written.
Barrows says “Amazing Grace” will be around “as long as there is sin in the world and need for forgiveness and the need for the daily presence of a living, loving, giving savior to be our guide and strength each day.”