“Amazing Grace” was written in 1779 by English poet and clergy man, John Newton.
“Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English speaking world.
Newton himself did was not raised in a particular religion. Rather, his religious convictions came from personal experience. Newton was drafted into the British Navy were he participated in the slave trade. One night a violent storm threatened his vessel and Newton allegedly called upon God for protection and mercy. It was then that Newton became a religious man. He later studied theology and became the curate of Only, Buckinghamshire and began writing hymns. William Cowper was a poet and the two became partners writing hymns. Newton and Cowper first published “Amazing Grace” in the Only Hymns but the song fell into relative obscurity for many years. “Amazing Grace” experienced a revival in America during the Great Awakening period.
Some believe the original version of “Amazing Grace” was written without music and the congregation chanted the words instead.
Other believe that Newton was inspired by the slaves aboard his vessel during the storm, who may have also been singing to God.
Negro Spirituals are built on the pentatonic scale, or as some say, on the black keys of the piano. This pentatonic scale was referred to as the “Slave Scale” in early America. “Amazing Grace” also follows this scale. It is possible that Newton was inspired by the intervals the slaves on his ship were singing and then composed “Amazing Grace”.
Today, the exact composer of “Amazing Grace” is unknown.
For more information about “Amazing Grace” and Negro Spirituals see:
Lauren Morrow, MT-BC