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Amazing Grace by Steve Turner
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Amazing Grace (2002)

by Steve Turner

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The story behind the song Amazing Grace. It is divided into two parts - the first tells the story of John Newton who wrote the song, the second tells the story of how it grew into one of the most popular songs of all time. I learned that Newton was a slave trader, and the song is, in part, the story of his salvation because he had become so wretched, and managed to turn his life around. There is a message there for anyone struggling, because certain John Newton had sunk to such a low that "wretched" is a perfect description of how miserable he was.
I learned in the second half of the book, which was not as interesting as the first, just how wide-spread Amazing Grace is. Nominally a church hymn, it has been recorded by a truly diverse group of recording artists from Elvis Presley, to Destiny's Child, to U2, and an artist from nearly every genre of music.
All in all, an excellent, and interesting read. ( )
  bjtimm | Nov 8, 2016 |
I had originally marked this book as read, but realizing from the placement of a bookmark that I hadn't finished it, I started over. It was well worth reading. For some people this might be more than they ever wanted to know about "Amazing Grace." About half of the book is a mini-biography of John Newton, who wrote the lyric, with digressions about William Cowper, his friend, and William Wilberforce, the abolitionist. It's quite useful as a corrective to the various urban legends about the author. Then as we get to learn about the tune, we also learn about Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp singing. The third section describes the song's resurgence in the early 1970s with recordings by Judy Collins and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards pipes, drums, and band. The author also points out that it is George W. Bush's favorite hymn; cynically, I would suggest that perhaps it's the only one he knows. There is a (necessarily incomplete) discography at the end as well as a (now outdated) list of movies which use the hymn in their soundtrack (Invasion of the Body Snatchers??? Huh.) ( )
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
An interesting look at the song Amazing Grace, the biography of it's author and it's story over the years. It's interesting to see how it fit into it's period but still has resonance over the years. While a good read, it sometimes made me think that there was more to be told and that there were issues unseen. I wasn't quite as interested with the commentary about modern versions of the tune but the adventures of John Newton sounded facinating.

I dare you to read this without humming the tune! ( )
  wyvernfriend | Mar 26, 2008 |
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John Newton, ein siebzehnjähriger Seemann, stand im Frühjahr 1743 an Deck eines Schiffes, das vor der Küste Venedigs vor Anker lag.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060002190, Paperback)

Behind our most beloved hymn is a fascinating story spanning continents, cultures, and centuries. Inspired by the way "Amazing Grace" continues to change and grow in popularity, acclaimed music writer Steve Turner embarks on a journey to trace the life of the hymn, from Olney, England, where it was written by former slave trader John Newton, to tiny Plantain Island off the coast of Africa, where Newton was held captive for almost a year, to the Kentucky-Tennessee border and other parts of the South, where the hymn first began to spread.

Newton had been rescued from Africa by a merchant ship when, during an eleven-hour storm on the Atlantic, he converted to Christianity. Years later, as a minister, he wrote the hymn for use among his congregation. Through the nineteenth century, "Amazing Grace" appeared in more and more hymn books, and in the twentieth century it rose to a gospel and folk standard before exploding into pop music. It has been recorded by artists as varied as Elvis Presley, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tiny Tim, Al Green, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Chet Baker, and Destiny's Child. Amazing Grace closely examines this modern history of the hymn through personal interviews with recording artists.

From John Newton's incredible life story to the hymn's role in American spirituality and culture, Amazing Grace is an illuminating, thorough, and unprecedented musical history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:04 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Inspired by the way "Amazing Grace" continues to change and grow in popularity, acclaimed music writer Steve Turner embarks on a journey to trace the life of the hymn, from Olney, England, where it was written by former slave trader John Newton, to tiny Plantain Island off the coast of Africa, where Newton was held captive for almost a year, to the Kentucky-Tennessee border and other parts of the South, where the hymn first began to spread." "As a young man, John Newton was pressed into the Royal Navy, but was such a rebellious sailor that he was moved to a slave ship in Madeira and eventually became a "servant of slaves in Africa." He was rescued from Africa by a merchant ship, but on the voyage back to England his ship endured an eleven-hour storm on the Atlantic - after which, reflecting on his miraculous survival and on his wretched state in Africa, he converted to Christianity. Back in England, he eventually became a minister and, still later, a vocal abolitionist. During his time as a Church of England parish priest, he and a friend, the poet William Cowper, began experimenting with what was then a relatively new form of religious song, the Protestant hymn, when he wrote "Amazing Grace" for use among his congregation." "The hymn made its way across the Atlantic to South Carolina, where the lyrics were published for the first time with a tune. Through the nineteenth century it appeared in more and more hymnals, and the twentieth century it rose to become a gospel and folk standard, then exploded into pop music with Judy Collins's masterful 1970 a capella recording, which took over the charts. The majority of the more than 450 recordings held by the Library of Congress were made after 1970 and include versions by artists as varied as Elvis Presley, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tiny Tim, Al Green, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Chet Baker, and Destiny's Child. Amazing Grace closely examines this modern history as Turner traces the hymn through the American gospel tradition in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and interviews contemporary artists to reveal why they were compelled to record the hymn."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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