Argentine Gospel / Global Gospel / Gospel geek

Gospel geek: Amazing Grace

By Melanie Henderson

When it comes to music, not many a genre can compete with gospel. The sheer weight of its purpose coupled with its heart-wrenching history, amazing and complex musical lines and harmonies brings together an overflowing basket full of information; for which the “Gospel Geek” series has been created. A little history, who wrote the song, what it’s about and a few different versions to listen to is what I have for you.

Amazing Grace is one of the most famous hymns of all time.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

The words were written by John Newton — a clergyman and poet — who after working in the Royal Navy, began running a slave ship. When his ship got mashed up at sea, he called out to God for mercy and there began his profound spiritual connection. Many different sources describe the song as Newton’s spiritual autobiography. Interestingly enough, he kept working in the slave trade for another five years or so until he decided to dedicate his life to the Church. Go figure.
The song’s melody was composed by a slave who came off a ship, much like the one run by its lyricist. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the composer’s name was never written down.
There are many, many different versions of this song, but the one that Pastor Wintley Phipps sings in this clip gives an honest and probably more accurate insight into what the original version would have sounded like.

Apart from going on to become one of the most famous hymns in the world, Amazing Grace has also done the rounds among many different musicians, choirs and recording artists.

I have selected a few very diverse versions here, just to allow you to see just how different this song can sound, whether arranged for solo voice and a band or multiple voices in harmony and a full-on orchestra. Enjoy!

 

Amazing Grace: Whitney Houston  — 1994.

Houston’s musical career  began in the church in New Jersey, led by her mother, gospel music legend Cissy Houston. This clip of the 1994 concert in South Africa was deemed extraordinarily important at the time, due to the fact that Whitney was the first big-time musician to perform in the country after the apartheid was brought to an end. The concert served as a commemoration to the work of late Nelson Mandela.

Amazing Grace: Destiny’s Child — 1999.

Like all great R&B artists, Destiny’s Child had a gospel-based beginning. Theirs began in Houston, Texas — where they are from — and continued to influence their sound throughout their career. On their second album “The Writing’s On The Wall,” which was released in 1999, they featured a snippet of gospel, including their own version of Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace: Melody Thornton — 2011.

Melody Thornton may not be a name that rings a bell in most people’s heads just yet, but the group she began in does. She was the youngest member of US girl group The Pussycat Dolls, and although many might argue that the girls’ success can be attributed to sight rather than sound; 29-year-old Thornton can actually sing. Here’s a clip of her singing the hymn on TV with Tommi Williams. Ignore the tears and speech afterward.

Amazing Grace: Rebecca Ferguson — 2010.

It’s amazing how much a song can be changed by lifting the tone slightly, or by changing its vocalist. Rebecca Ferguson, from Liverpool, UK, sings the hymn live on UK TV in 2010. Her voice is one of the best discoveries to come out of talent-hunting TV shows in recent years.

Amazing Grace: Soweto Gospel Choir — 2008.

Recorded live at their Nelson Mandela concert in 2008, South Africa’s most important and successful group, Soweto Gospel Choir sings a slightly different, beautiful version of Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace: Coro Gospel de Argentina — 2011.

El Coro Gospel de Argentina ran from 2008 to 2011 and saw many musical talents begin to emerge. This arrangement was put together by this vocal group which includes Amado Acosta, Virginia Alayon, Rosa Medina and Agustin Lopez for this performance at the SHA theatre in Buenos Aires.

Amazing Grace: Il Divo —

Sung in a slightly more classical way, but still beautiful — here is male quartet, Il Divo’s epic version of the hymn complete with bagpipes, orchestra and amazing scenary.

Amazing Grace: Celtic Woman

The bagpipes didn’t stop with Il Divo. Irish female quartet sings the hymn in a truly crystal clear, magnificent and angelic way. This was no ordinary live concert, they kept the recording as their official video.

Amazing Grace: Jennifer Holliday — 2011(?)

I am not going to lie, I could have kept looking for videos for this post for a very long time. In the penultimate clip, is the mighty Jennifer Holliday, mad amazing singer and original Dreamgirl. It is filmed in a church in the US, maybe in 2011. Just watch it.

Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin — 2005

Clearly writing a piece about Amazing Grace cannot be completed without recognising the sheer power of this song to a) make everyone who listens to it cry, but b) and most importantly, its religious connotation. The writer and composer’s powerful connection with God strings together a very powerful combination, particularly with its power to achieve spiritual unity. This next clip was a rather epic discovery. Aretha Franklin is singing here at Luther Vandross’s funeral back in 2005. She kept the vocals simple and exceedingly powerful.

Check in again next Sunday for another issue of Gospel Geek, for more hunting of information on gospel music.

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