DESCRIPTION: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me." The singer describes how Jesus's grace gives him/her the confidence to face all the dangers and troubles of life.
AUTHOR: Words: John Newton (1725-1807)
EARLIEST DATE: 1789 (reportedly composed) or 1831 (printed in Virginia Harmony)
KEYWORDS: religious nonballad
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Ritchie-Southern, p. 45, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gainer, p. 203, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSUSA 96, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 573-574, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Warren-Spirit, pp. 198-199, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 261-262, "Amazing Grace" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 369, "Amazing Grace" (1 text)
Jack, p. 241, "Amazing Grace" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp. 48-49, "Amazing Grace" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ira D. Sankey, _Sankey's Sacred Songs and Solos_ [1200 Hymns] (London} Collins, n.d.), #894 (1880 #231), "Amazing Grace"
Howard Adams & congregation, "Amazing Grace" (on LomaxCD1704)
Jesse Allison & group, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 2684 A1)
Horton Barker, "Amazing Grace" (on Barker01)
Mr. & Mrs. N. V. Braley, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 2638 A2)
Rev. J. C. Burnett, "Amazing Grace" (Decca 7494, 1938)
Congregation of the Little Zion Church, Jeff, KY "Amazing Grace" (on Ritchie03)
Congregation of the New Hope Baptist Church, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3042 A2)
Old Regular Baptist Church congregation, "Amazing Grace" (on MMOK, MMOKCD)
C. J. Evans Gospel Choir of Nicey Grove Baptist Church, "Amazing Grace" (on HandMeDown2)
Denson-Parris Sacred Harp Singers, "New Britain" (Bluebird B-5397, 1934)
Dye's Sacred Harp Singers "Amazing Grace" (Gennett 6889, 1929; rec. 1928)
Bill & Pauline Garland, Charlie Black & Marie Bennett, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3941 A1)
Mrs. Henry Garrett, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3175 A3)
Rev. J. M. Gates, "Amazing Grace" (Pathe Actuelle 7514/Perfect 114, 1926) (Victor 20216, 1926) (Herwin 92003, 1926; Gennett 6013/Champion 15199/Black Patti 8015/Silvertone 5021, 1927; Paramount 12782, 1929; all rec. 1926)
Rev. J. R. Gipson, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3981 A1)
Harmonizing Four, "Amazing Grace" (Gotham G779, rec. early 1950s)
Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee, "Amazing Grace" (on OldHarp01)
Horace Helms & the Shady Grove Partners, "Amazing Grace" (on HandMeDown2)
Mahalia Jackson, "Amazing Grace" (Apollo 194, rec. 1947; on Babylon)
Aunt Molly Jackson, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 821 B2, 1935)
Buell Kazee, "Amazing Grace" [fragment] (on Kazee01)
Vera Kilgore, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 2939 B4)
Mrs. W. L. Martin, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 2748 B1/2)
Lucy McKeever, Annie Harvey, Melinda Jones, Mary Davis & Elsi Martin, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 917 B2)
Blind Willie McTell, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 4071 B3)
Moving Star Hall Singers, "Amazing Grace" (on USSeaIsland02)
Gilbert Pike, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3189 B6)
Pilgrim Travelers, "Amazing Grace" (Specialty 847, n.d. but probably post-World War II)
Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson & Roger Sprung, "Amazing Grace" (on RitchieWatson1, RitchiteWatsonCD1)
School group, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3109 B)
Pete Seeger, "Amazing Grace" (on PeteSeeger47)
Mary Shipp, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3005 A1)
Carl Smith w. Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle, "Amazing Grace" (Columbia 20986, 1952)
Students at Pine Mt. Settlement School, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 1383 B1)
Rev. H. R. Tomlin, "Amazing Grace" (OKeh 8378, 1926)
Mr. & Mrs. Richard Walker & Grover Bishop, "Amazing Grace" (AAFS 3104 A2)
Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Clint Howard, Fred Price & Jean Ritchie, "Amazing Grace" (on Ashley03, WatsonAshley01)
Wisdom Sisters, "Amazing Grace" (Columbia 15093-D, 1926)
Group of young and old people, "Amazing Grace" (on JThomas01)
The Frenchman's Cow (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 59)
The Light Is Bad, My Eyes Are Dim (Joke based on a minister telling his congregants that he can't see and they assuming he is lining out a hymn; JonesLunsford, p. 186)
NOTES [583 words]: As with many hymns, the threads [of this song's history] are a bit tangled. It's called "New Britain" in the "Original Sacred Harp" (1971 ed.), and this tune is the one commonly sung. No composer is listed for the tune, and a note states that the song was published in "Olney's Selections" as "Faith's Review and Expectation."
The lyrics also appear with a tune by R. F. Mann from 1869, under the title "Jewett," with the chorus "Shout, shout for glory/Shout, shout aloud for glory/Brother, sister, mourner/All shout glory hallelujah." - PJS
John Newton, according to Reynolds, p. 390, was born in London, but according to Johnson, lost his mother at age seven and at age eleven found himself serving his father on shipboard. Taken into the navy, he deserted, was recaptured, and finally ended up serving on a slaver. Then he read The Imitation of Christ, and gave up his career, eventually becoming an Anglican clergyman.
His major relic is the texts he contributed to Olney Hymns (Olney was the home of Newton and of William Cowper); there are nearly 300 of them, of which this one is by far the most popular. Other Newton songs in the Index are "Greenfields (How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours)" and "Glorious Thing of Thee are Spoken."
Julian, p. 803, gives a fuller biography of Newton, noting in particular that, "He grew into an abandoned and godless sailor. The religious fits of his boyhood changed into settled infidelity, through the study of Shaftsbury and the instruction of one of his comrades. Disappointing repeatedly the plans of his father, he was flogged as a deserter from the navy, and for fifteen months lived, half-starved and ill-treated, in abject degradation under a slave-dealer in Africa. The one restraining influence on his life was his future wife, Mary Catlett, formed when he was seventeen, and she only in her fourteenth year. A chance reading of Thomas a Kempis sowed the seed of his conversion; which quickened under the awful contemplations of a night spent in steering a water-logged vessel in the face of apparent death (1748). He was then twenty-three. The six following years, during which he commanded a slave ship, matured his Christian belief."
He spent the nine years after that studying the Biblical languages and meeting such people as Wesley, Whitefield, and Cowper. He was not ordained until 1764, when he was made curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he did most of his best writing, the primary result being the Olney Hymns.
Although Julian, p. 804, lists 61 hymns by Newton that are considered significant, the only ones to make the Index are "Amazing Grace," "Greenfields (How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours)," "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken," and "Mercy O Thou Son of David" (filed as "This Old World") -- which still makes his work exceptionally popular by hymn-writer standards.
Julian, p. 55, says of this song, "In G[reat] Brit[ain] it is unknown in modern collections, but in America its use is extensive. It is far from being a good example of Newton's work."
As with many popular hymns, the versions sung in churches do not match the original text; McKim, p. 280, tells us that the Presbyterian version, at least, has a fifth stanza from "Jerusalem, My Happy Home" (and sometimes credited to John P. Rees, although he in fact had no part of it).
The tune "New Britain" apparently had a different third line in its original form, and was modified by Edwin Othello Excell. For the original form, see e.g. Stulken, p. 476. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- McKim: LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993
- Reynolds: William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.