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Collection Amazing Grace

Timeline

  • 1779

    Olney Hymns in Three Books

    This hymnal contains the first printing of "Amazing Grace." The song is numbered "hymn 41" and begins at the bottom of page 53. Olney Hymns was written by the author of "Amazing Grace," John Newton, rector of a parish in Olney, England, and William Cowper, a poet and close friend of Newton's. The profits from the hymnal went to the benefit of Olney's poor. Olney Hymns was later published in New York in 1790 and in Philadelphia in 1791.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View Olney Hymns in Three Books
    Go directly to page containing "Amazing Grace" (scroll to bottom)

    Olney Hymns
  • 1831

    The Virginia Harmony

    This is the second shape note tune book to feature the melody that we have now come to associate with "Amazing Grace." (Columbian Harmony was likely the first to feature the tune in 1829.) Compiled by Methodist lay preacher James P. Carrell and Presbyerian elder David L. Clayton, Virginia Harmony lists the tune as "Harmony Grove." The melody wasn't matched with the words to "Amazing Grace," but with an Isaac Watts hymn, "There is a Land of Pure Delight."

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View The Virginia Harmony hymnal
    Go directly to "There is a Land of Pure Delight" ("Amazing Grace" tune)

  • 1835

    The Southern Harmony

    The Southern Harmony, first published in1835, is the earliest pairing of the words for "Amazing Grace" with the "New Britain" tune, which is the tune we have come to associate with the hymn. William Walker took the "Harmony Grove" tune, made some changes, arranged it, and named it "New Britain." The Southern Harmony was an enormously successful tune book for singing schools and played a large role in popularizing "Amazing Grace in America." Here are two versions of The Southern Harmony, published in 1847.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View The Southern Harmony
    View "Amazing Grace" (New Britain) in The Southern Harmony

    The Southern Harmony
  • [1877]

    Sacred Songs & Solos

    This hymnal uses the tune "Claremont" for the hymn "Amazing Grace." Compiled by Ira D. Sankey, an Episcopalian Methodist from Pennsylvania and the musical assistant to evangelist Dwight L. Moody, this book was the "defining hymn collection of late-nineteenth century evangelicalism," according to historian Steve Turner. Sankey was the first to identify the hymn by the title "Amazing Grace" rather than by the name of its music or a number.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View page from Sacred Songs & Solos

  • 1888

    Baptist Chorals

    This book reflects the first time that "Amazing Grace" was set to the tune of "New Britain" in a hymnal, even though it had been combined in this way previously in shape note tune books. F. T. Shore used The Sacred Harp harmonization in Baptist Chorals in 1888 and published it in Tipton, Missouri. Before this, other hymnals contained more than twenty different tunes for "Amazing Grace," with "Arlington" being the most frequently used.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View "New Britain" from Baptist Chorals

    Baptist Chorals
  • [1900]

    Make His Praise Glorious

    In a collection "for the Sunday School and Church," Edwin Othello Excell made "Amazing Grace" sound more contemporary by adding harmonies and ironing out some of the awkward transitions in William Walker's version. He wrote the song in the standard European harmony used by contemporary choirs, and put the melody in the soprano. Excel went on to make further changes to the song, creating by 1909 the version of harmonies that is accepted as the standard today.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View page from Make His Praise Glorious

  • 1922

    The Original Sacred Harp Choir

    The first company to record "Amazing Grace" (under the title "New Britain") was Brunswick Records (Brunswick 5150) which in 1922 released a small series of recordings of Sacred Harp songs. Brunswick created a special label for this series that incorporated shape-note notation in its design. Other recordings in the Sacred Harp tradition include J. T. Allison's Sacred Harp Singers, Denson-Parris Sacred Harp Singers, and Dye's Sacred Harp Singers.

    Listen to the Original Sacred Harp Choir sing "New Britain"

    New Britain
  • 1923

    The Cokesburg Hymnal

    This hymnal uses the Edwin Othello Excell arrangement for "Amazing Grace" and is the hymnal used by the group singing "Amazing Grace" in the 1939 recording made by Herbert Halpert in Vancleave, Mississippi, June 9, 1939. (See 1939 in the timeline.)

    View The Cokesbury Hymnal

  • ca. 1926-1930

    Okeh Race Records [catalog]

    This catalog contains a picture of Rev. J. M. Gates on page 7 and lists Rev. H. R. Tomlin's version of "Amazing Grace" on page 8.

    View Okeh Race Records [catalog]

    Okeh Race Records [catalog]
  • 1929

    J. T. Allison's Sacred Harp Singers

    J. T. Allison's Sacred Harp Singers hailed from Alabama and traveled to the Gennett recording studio in Richmond, Indiana to record their version of "Jewett" along with other songs (Gennett 13773). Although several record labels of the period were recording regional music such as Sacred Harp or shape-note singing, Gennett recorded the most Sacred Harp, totaling 32 sides by the Allisons and 21 by Dye's Sacred Harp Singers.

    Source: Starr-Gennett Foundation, Inc. External

    Listen to J. T. Allison's Sacred Harp Singers perform "Jewett"

  • 1930

    Fiddlin' John Carson

    After its success with blues recordings, Okeh also expanded efforts to include recordings of white, southern vernacular music. Ralph Peer, a producer who had been involved with recording Mamie Smith, led this effort with on-location sessions in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1923. It was at one of these recording dates that Peer first recorded the popular local musician, Fiddlin' John Carson.

    In one of his recordings, Carson sang "At the Cross" and then continued singing the same tune to the lyrics of "Amazing Grace." Carson's version is the first recording of "Amazing Grace" with musical backing (Okeh mxW404624-B, recorded December 1930). The recording is somewhat anomalous when heard beside the rest of Carson's output, which occasionally references moonshine, and is often comedic and irreverent in tone. This may explain why the track was not released.

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    Listen to "Fiddlin' John Carson perform "At the Cross"

    Fiddlin' John Carson
  • 1936

    The Original Sacred Harp

    The first edition of The Sacred Harp, published in 1844 and compiled by B. F. White, set "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "New Britain," but put it in four-part, rather than three-part harmony as in The Southern Harmony. Historian Steve Turner states that "this was to become the most influential tune book of the shape-note movement." In 1936 Paine Denson published a new edition of the book, earlier begun by his father. Along with his siblings and cousins, Paine composed tunes, taught, and sang Sacred Harp music throughout the South. (See the entry for 1942 in this timeline to hear an interview in which Paine Denson discusses his craft.)

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    View the Original Sacred Harp, pg. 45 (top) "New Britain"

    The Original Sacred Harp - New Britain
  • 1939

    Mrs. Mary Shipp

    Herbert Halpert recorded 419 discs of instrumentals, monologs, prayers, sermons, and songs throughout the South from March 15 through June 23, 1939, for the Folk Arts Committee of the Works Projects Administration/Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Library of Congress. Midway through the trip he recorded five discs of the Shipp family at the C.M.E. (Colored Methodist Episcopal) Church in Byhalia, Mississippi. The singers were Mary Shipp (age 48) and four of her children: Katherine, Christine, Allison, and Isaac. Katherine and Christine's performance of "Sea Lion Woman" is featured on A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings (Rounder CD 1500) and in the film The General's Daughter (1999). Mary's husband was a preacher; together they sharecropped a farm.

    This version of "Amazing Grace" is a solo performance, but Mary lines-out the words to herself, illustrating the way that the song would be sung by a larger group (recorded by Herbert Halpert in Byhalia, Mississippi, May 13, 1939. AFS 3005 A1). Her singing is melismatic and she uses a variant of the "New Britain" melody. In an interview after the performance, Halpert asks her where she learned the song. His practice of documenting and also contextualizing the performance helps to preserve aspects of a culture that, for the most part, has disappeared.

    Listen to Mary Shipp sing "Amazing Grace"

    Jesse Allison, Vera Hall, and Dock Reed

    This recording is among more than 3,000 acetate discs that John A. Lomax, his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax, and John's son, Alan Lomax, made for the fledgling Archive of American Folk-Song during the 1930s (recorded in Livingston, Alabama, May 26, 1939, AFS 2684 A1). On their 6,500-mile-1939 recording trip that wound through the American South, the Lomaxes recorded in prisons, schools, and colleges, and in individual's homes. They spent six days in Livingston, Alabama, where, on a previous trip, Ruby Tartt Pickens, a local resident, had introduced them to Jesse Allison, Vera Hall, and Dock Reed. The Lomaxes were impressed especially by Vera Hall's repertoire, writing in their field notes, "If Vera can hear a song through once or twice, she can sing it again herself, with perhaps a variation or two of her own, always an improvement." The 1939 field trip is available online as Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. This recording features a trio of singers, singing a highly ornamented variant of the "New Britain" melody and using the lining-out lyric technique.

    Listen to Jesse Allison, Vera Hall and Dock Reed sing "Amazing Grace"

    A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings
    Detail from dust jacket AFS 2684
  • 1939

    Group of adults (Vancleave, Mississippi)

    The Library of Congress fashioned a converted Army ambulance into a mobile recording studio so that Herbert Halpert could record in the most remote locations during his 1939 Southern field trip. Whenever possible, Halpert recorded indoors, often using community centers. In Vancleave, Mississippi, he recorded in the schoolhouse. Balancing a group of adult singers with a single microphone and running his disc cutter on car batteries proved challenging--listen to the distortion in this recording. The group sings from the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal and Halpert notes that they mistakenly sang two different tunes at the same time (recorded by Herbert Halpert in Vancleave, Mississippi, June 9, 1939. AFS 3109 B).

    Listen to "Amazing Grace" (recorded June 9. 1939)

  • 1941

    Shilo Baptist Church

    In 1941 and 1942 John Henry Faulk received a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation to document African-American religious traditions in Texas. Using a field recorder and blank acetate discs from the Library of Congress, Faulk made more than 100 recordings in churches, mostly around Austin, Texas. (Listen to other recordings by Faulk and read a biographical sketch.)

    This version of "Amazing Grace" uses a variant of the "New Britain" melody and a lined-out, call-and-response technique (Recorded by John Henry Faulk in Manor, Texas, August 3, 1941, AFS 5456 B). In this method, common to both black and white American religious traditions, the leader reads a few lines of text to the congregation, which then sings the lines. The recording also demonstrates how music was used in the context of African-American religious expression. The song provides only one element in the event, layered among the sermon by the preacher--who sometimes joins in the song and other times preaches over it--and the congregation, whose expressions range from words of encouragement to cries of ecstasy.

    Listen to the Shilo Baptist Church Choir sing "Amazing Grace"

    African American Singers
  • 1942

    An Interview with Paine Denson

    Paine Denson is from a family still closely associated with Sacred Harp singing and the songbook The Sacred Harp, compiled by B. F. White in 1844. In 1936 Paine published a new edition of the book, earlier begun by his father. Along with his siblings and cousins, Paine composed tunes, taught, and sang Sacred Harp music throughout the South. This clip, from an extensive interview in which Paine Denson discusses his craft, was made during the 1942 Sacred Harp Singing Society convention in Birmingham, Alabama (recorded by Alan Lomax and George Pullen Jackson in Birmingham, Alabama, August 1942, AFS 6714).

    Listen to an interview of Paine Denson

    Sacred Harp Singing Society, led by Uncle Bill Hardeman

    George Pullen Jackson, a distinguished scholar of sacred American music, accompanied Alan Lomax to document the 1942 Sacred Harp Singing Convention in Birmingham, Alabama. They recorded 28 discs of hymns, fuguing-tunes, and anthems, along with several interviews. This version of "Amazing Grace" is in the shape-note singing style, from The Sacred Harp book, in four-part harmony using the "New Britain" melody (recorded by Alan Lomax and George Pullen Jackson in Birmingham, Alabama, August 1942. AFS 6702 A4).

    Shape-note hymnody employs a type of music notation in which a distinctive shape is assigned to the note head of a given scale degree (do, re, mi, and so on). The shapes allow singers with little formal training to read music notation. The practice became common in 19th century-rural American sacred singing. The best-known published example is The Sacred Harp (1844).

    Listen to the Sacred Harp Singing Society sing "Amazing Grace"

    Sacred Harp
  • 1946

    Seymour Mayo

    "Uncle Seymour was carried in from the car to sing ‘Amazing Grace,'" wrote Margot Mayo in her field notes for this recording. The performance indicates that Seymour Mayo, then likely in his seventies and only four years from his death, was once a powerful singer (recorded by Margot Mayo, Stu Jamieson, and Freyda Simon in Allen, Kentucky, 1946, AFS 8527 A). He departs from the common "New Britain," in this case singing a variant of the lyric song "In the Pines" (see Schinhan, 1962:202-203, also Patterson, 1995:137).

    The fieldworkers for this collection included Margot Mayo (1910-74), whose family had roots in eastern Kentucky. Through her American Square Dance Group and her journal Promenade, Mayo contributed to an urban folk revival of square dance during the mid-20th century.

    Sources:
    Patterson, Beverly Bush. The Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

    Schinhan, Jan Philip, ed. "In the Pines," In The Music of the Folk Songs, Edited by Jan Philip Schinhan, Vol. 5 of The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, edited by Newman Ivey White, et al. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1962, 201-3.

    Listen to Uncle Seymour Mayo sing "Amazing Grace"

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    The Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches
  • 1951

    Sister Rosetta Tharpe

    Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Lottie Henry and the Rosettes (Sacred Singing with Organ Accompaniment). Decca 14575, recorded 2/21/1951 in New York City.

    Listen to Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing "Amazing Grace"

    Amazing Grace - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • 1952

    Carl Smith, The Carter Sisters & Mother Maybell

    Columbia 20986 (DLC 0109/0785 or DLC 0109/0789)

    Listen to Carl Smith, the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybell sing "Amazing Grace

  • 1959

    Thorton Old Regular Baptist Church

    In 1959 Alan Lomax returned to the United States after nearly a decade in Europe. He undertook an extensive field trip through the South, including visits to many of the informants who he had recorded in prior decades, although this time with a state-of-the-art stereo tape recorder. Thornton, Kentucky, lies in the southeastern part of that state, just over the Virginia border along the route that Lomax had traveled during his 1937 trip.

    This Old Regular Baptist version, sung in unison by the congregation with a lined-out text, uses an unidentified melody, not the common "New Britain" (Recorded by Alan Lomax in Mayking, Kentucky, 1959. AFC 2004/004:T863.6). This track is found on the CD Southern Journey, Vol. 4: Brethren, We Meet Again (Rounder CD 1704) part of the 95-CD issue of Alan Lomax's field recordings by Rounder Records under the collective title, The Alan Lomax Collection.

    Listen to Thornton Old Regular Baptist Church sing "Amazing Grace"

    Southern Journey - Brethren, We Meet Again
  • 1962

    Chet Atkins

    From Back Home Hymns (RCA Victor LPM 2601), 1962

    Listen to Chet Atkins sing "Amazing Grace"

  • 1963

    Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke

    Instead of using the tune "New Britain" for "Amazing Grace" as many gospel groups had done, Sam Cooke wrote a new arrangement for the song and "altered the lyrics so that each stanza was made up of Newton's first line repeated three times plus his fourth line" (from Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story, 1959-1965, SAR 22331-2).

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    Listen to The Soul Stirrers & Sam Cooke sing "Amazing Grace"

    Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story
  • 1970

    The Byrds

    Although "Amazing Grace" was recorded by the Byrds in June 1970, the track remained unreleased for thirty years (from Untitled/Unissued, Sony/Legacy 65847).

    Source: Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    Listen to The Byrds perform "Amazing Grace"

    The Byrds
  • 1971

    Skeeter Davis

    From the Love Takes a Lot of My Time (RCA Victor LSP 4557).

    Listen to Skeeter Davis sing "Amazing Grace"

  • 1972

    Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

    From Amazing Grace: The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (RCA Victor LSP 4744), 1972.

    Listen to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards perform "Amazing Grace"

    Mighty Clouds of Joy

    From Live at the Apollo (MCA-28032 MCA Records, PLP-173 Peacock).

    Listen to Mighty Clouds of Joy perform "Amazing Grace"

    From Family Circle (Peacock PLP-173).

    Listen to Mighty Clouds of Joy perform "Amazing Grace"

    Amazing Grace - The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
  • 1975

    "Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)"

    Amazing Rhythm Aces (ABC Records ABC-12142).

    Listen to "Amazing Grace (used to be her favorite song)"

  • 1976

    Willie Nelson

    From The Sound in Your Mind (Columbia KC 34092)

    Listen to Willie Nelson sing "Amazing Grace"

  • 1977

    Arrangement by Hale Smith

    This original setting of the hymn is preceded by an extensive orchestral introduction. Hale Smith (1925- ) is regarded as one of America's finest composers. He had a distinguished career as an arranger, editor and educator. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 29, 1925, he began a study of the piano at age seven, and his initial performance experience included both classical and jazz music. After military service (1943-45), he entered the Cleveland Institute of Music where his principal teachers were Ward Lewis and Marcel Dick. The composer reached a wide audience through his music and his consistent involvement in events such as the annual Symposium on Black American Composers sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performs his arrangement under the baton of Paul Freeman.

    View the manuscript score of "Amazing Grace" (arr. by Hale Smith)

    Hale Smith's Manuscript
  • 1986

    Boston Camerata

    Recorded at the Library of Congress in the Coolidge Auditorium, April 25, 1986 (RWD 7019).

    Listen to the Boston Camerata perform "New Britain"

  • 1990

    Johnny Cash

    From Gospel Glory (CBS Special Products A 21608).

    Listen to Johnny Cash sing "Amazing Grace"

  • 1991

    Wendy Saivetz

    From Quiet Joys of Brotherhood (Abaca Productions).

    Listen to Wendy Saivetz sing "Amazing Grace"

  • 1992

    Lemonheads

    From Hate Your Friends (Taang! Records).

    Listen to the Lemonheads perform "Amazing Grace"

    Marion Williams

    From If We Ever Needed the Lord Before (Columbia/Legacy CK 48951).

    Listen to Marion Williams sing "Amazing Grace"

    Lemonheads - Hate Your Friends
  • 1994

    Elvis Presley

    From Amazing Grace: His Greatest Sacred Performances (RCA 07863 66421-2), 1994.

    Listen to Elvis Presley sing "Amazing Grace"

    Elvia Presley
  • 2000

    Herb Remington and Charlie Shaffer

    From Precious Memories (Glad Music Company), 2000

    Listen to Herb Remington & Charlie Shaffer perform "Amazing Grace"

  • 2001

    A Capella, Ur2kam

    Published by Ur2kam, (CD) 2001. [Tartu, Estonia] Ur2kam: Markus Leppoja, Märt Loite, Simo Breede, Tanel Breede, vocals.

    Listen to UR2KAM perform "Amazing Grace"

    Indiana University of Pennsylvania Marching Band

    2001 IUP Marching Band

    Listen to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Marching Band perform "Amazing Grace"

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