Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song
Steve Turner | 2003-11-01 00:00:00 | Ecco | 304 | Religious
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.Reviews
Steve Turner has done a great service to Christians everywhere. In the first part of his carefully researched book, Turner gives us an excellent account of the life of John Newton, the author of the famous hymn "Amazing Grace." Here he covers much that is familiar, and at the same time corrects some common misconceptions.
The second half of the book traces the history of "Amazing Grace." It is fascinating to learn how the song's tune has developed and changed, how the verses of the song have evolved over time, and how the hymn has grown in popularity over the years. Not as enjoyable was learning how "Amazing Grace" has been reinterpreted since the 1970's to support the views of whatever unsaved person or group using it at the time. I am sure ol' John Newton would be spinning in his grave if he knew what our postmodern society has done with his marvelous hymn. Still, Turner's book should do nothing for the Christian but endear even more to "Amazing Grace" the song, and amazing grace the message.Reviews
I'm not sure why,but this book has a lot more to it than first meets the eye.Often books of this nature are of the 'edited 'type with very little effort put into them and while the concept is good ;usually filled with a bunch of fluff.But not this one.A great effort has gone into it and as a result we have an excellent work.
While he never gets away from his topic,Turner gives us an awful lot about the history of Newton and everyone associated with him,a thorough understanding of the slave trade,a good understanding of the various Protestant churches of the18th and 19th centuries .If that isn't enough, he has covered in minute detail the evolution of the hymn,it's meaning word by word,it's associated music and how it spread ,and by whom ,throughout it's 225 year history.
He has beautifully shown the deep religious and theological meaning the hymn has for those who understand it and have a faith in God.He has just as well explained how and why so many people love and get inspiration from the hymn even though they may have little in the way of faith or religious involvement.He does this without being judgemental in any way.
As to how Newton could be involved in the slave trade.."Slavery was as acceptable as abortion is today-it was legal,it had immediate and tangible benefits,and people predicted widespread calamity should it ever be banned.There was no social pressure for him to feel shame.Cities had been built on the fruits of slavery and the great merchants of slaves were celebrated,giving their names to buildings and streets.It was those who were opposed to slavery who were regarded as irritants-ememies of social stability,troublemakers,idealists with no concern for progress."
There is one thing I would like to add and that is..If there ever was a book that would have benefited from an included CD,this would have been it.Reviews
I sing and Amazing Grace is one of my favorite hymns. I'm also a nontheist. I'm pretty comfortable with those two seemingly incongruous facts, but I thought I'd read Steve Turner's book Amazing Grace to see if other folks like me had made it into the text. I'm also an Arlo Guthrie fan and I figured I'd do some fact checking on the version of John Newton's story Arlo tells when singing Amazing Grace in concert. Folks like me show up towards the end of the second part of the book and Turner indicates that Arlo is aware that his version is condensed and inaccurate.
The first part of Amazing Grace is the story of John Newton and how he came to write the words to what is now America's favorite hymn. I learned a lot of history, especially of the slave trade in the 1700's, while getting the non-Arlo, complicated version of Mr. Newton's life. The second part of the book follows the history of the hymn post-Newton. Turner has done his homework and I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the hymn in the 1800's, including how Amazing Grace picked up the tune we now sing it to.
I highly recommend Amazing Grace to fans of history, music, and, of course, the hymn Amazing Grace.
I just led a church service about "Amazing Grace," and Steve Turner's book served as my main resource. I read it cover to cover during the process, and found it highly intelligent and interesting, with far too many "tidbits" that I wanted to include in the service and couldn't! I encourage the reading of this book AS a "pleasure read," not just as research material.
I particularly appreciated the section on contemporary versions of "Amazing Grace" and its impact on the secular community. As a Unitarian Universalist, I was greatly cheered to find one of our ministers quoted on the impact of the hymn on those who don't necessarily believe in a divine presence.
The discography of AG recordings included as an appendix was also hugely valuable, as I compiled a CD of recorded versions as a "party favor" for my (small) congregation. Turner's correct when he says it's a "select" discography, but he got most of the really good ones!
I love Steve Turner books, and I love the song Amazing Grace. What a combination!...a work of history that reads like a good mystery novel! I couldn't put it down until I'd read it from cover to cover. This book has everything...a great redemption story, both for the man, Newton--and his song, which didn't really take off until someone put the perfect tune with it a hundred years later. Turner manages to present the context of Newton's theology in a scholarly way that will be informative, but not off-putting to those who are not into reformed theology. The secular life of the song is fascinating...to see how this song was popularized, and now touches millions. To me this song has what we wan't all music to have...something that touches our insides in a way we can't describe, but we know that it makes our lives more complete. And the biggest surprise of the book?...Newton became a slave-trader AFTER his conversion, and only opposed slavery much later in life. Considering how slowly America has repented of it's historic racism, there may be a lesson for us all as we see the sanctification that occurred over time in Newton's life.
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