By: Micaela Aboody
It is hard to find a person who hasn’t heard Amazing Grace. The well-known tune has been played at countless services worldwide, with many cover versions created and performed and, now, the moving song celebrates 50 years since it was the UK’s best selling single.
In 1972, The Pipes and The Drums and The Military Band of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ version remained at No.1 on the charts for five weeks.
The Song’s Beginnings
English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton originally wrote the words to Amazing Grace in 1772, while the Christian hymn was official published in 1779.
The words relate to Newton’s personal life as someone who supported slave trading before finding himself in a situation where he needed God’s help, which gave him a new perspective on life leading him to write the words of Amazing Grace.
However, more than 20 melodies have been put to the famous lyrics over the last two centuries and, in 1835, a melody by the name of New Britain by American composer William Walker became the tune traditionally used to this day.
In 1922, The Original Sacred Harp Choir were the first to record Amazing Grace with the New Britain tune. Folk and gospel singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend J.M. Gates and Aunt Molly Jackson soon followed recording their own renditions.
Moving forward to 1970, Judy Collins recorded a version, which was also on the UK chart’s – for 67 weeks, the longest single by a female artist at the time, peaking at No.5.
50 Years Since Charting at No.1 in the UK
Two years later in 1972, The Pipes and The Drums and The Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ version reached No.1 and proceeded to stay in the Top 10 for nine weeks.
Amazing Grace was Live Aid’s opening performance on the Philadelphia stage in 1985, sung by Joan Baez with over 100,000 people singing with her in unison.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, various famous musicians, singers, bands, choirs and orchestras have recorded and performed Amazing Grace live.
Amazing Grace continues to be sung and re-invented to this day.