The song “Amazing Grace” just celebrated its 250th anniversary.

Many of us know something about the man who wrote the lyrics: John Newton. He never heard his words sung to the tune we know today. In fact, the pairing of Newton’s words and that tune didn’t happen until early in the 20th century.

By the 1930’s, the song had deep roots in America. At that time, the Library of Congress commissioned the Lomax family to travel around the American South, making recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song. They found that people sang “Amazing Grace” scattered across the United States in the most extraordinarily remote places – Black and white, rich and poor, individual, old people in their homes – these crackly old American voices of all kinds of regional accents – all singing “Amazing Grace.”

No one knows exactly when it was first sung in a Black church, but we know that “Amazing Grace” would become a staple of the civil rights movement. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang it in Selma and at the March on Washington. And she even sang “Amazing Grace” to Martin Luther King Jr. over the phone at night to calm him down at the end of a long day.

The most popular recorded versions were sung by folk singer Judy Collins and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

For a song with a 250-year history, the beauty of “Amazing Grace” is its ability to shapeshift. It’s a hymn or a gospel song or a folk song. It spurs protesters to march forward or calms an anxious leader. It’s a song of hope or mourning or celebration. It’s a song that speaks of the greatest gift offered to us by God: grace.

What is your experience of “Amazing Grace?”


-Written by Rev. Amy Miracle

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One Comment

  1. Martha Campbell January 24, 2024 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    This response is a little belated but the song has an impact immediately with the words “wretch like me “ gotcha! It’s left to us to know why. But also immediately we are found if only we believe. It’s a song for everyone Sing it
    say it. We are found. We can be and do better.

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