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Amazing Grace : The Story of America's Most Beloved Song Hardcover – November 5, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
This carefully crafted and finely probed book will stand as the definitive look at what is perhaps the most popular hymn in American history a song that Turner argues has "more than eleven hundred currently available albums featuring versions." Turner's previous books on music and musicians (Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye; Hungry for Heaven: Rock and Roll and the Search for Redemption) have dealt with the religious themes behind the historical facts, and his newest is no exception. Turner begins by detailing the life of the song's author, John Newton, an 18th-century slave trader whose miraculous survival during an 11-hour storm at sea in 1748 sparked a religious conversion that led to his becoming a minister (and later an avowed abolitionist) and to writing the hymn in 1773. Turner's examination of Newton's life and how it influenced the words of "Amazing Grace" gives an added resonance to the second half of his book. From the song's early 20th-century popularity in gospel music to its adoption by folk singers in the 1950s, from Judy Collins's hit single in the early 1970s to openly secular interpretations by artists and writers such as Allen Ginsberg, the central historical paradox of Newton's specifically religious song, Turner observes, is that "although the song still holds its original meaning for millions of Christians around the world, it now has a parallel existence outside the church, where often the only link is a shared belief that it is a song about hope."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Turner, a respected British music biographer (Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye), divides his excellent book into two almost even halves. Part 1, "Creation," tells the story of John Newton (1725-1807), the lyricist of "Amazing Grace." Part 2, "Dissemination," provides new evidence for the tune's origin, explains how the words and a variety of tunes came together until the familiar match was arrived at, reveals which stanzas are commonly sung, and discusses popularizers like Mahalia Jackson and Judy Collins (who wrote the foreword). Turner's account of Newton's life reads like a good suspense novel: he carefully sets the stage for Newton's conversion from slave trader to abolitionist champion while presenting his experiences as a country clergyman and relationships with poet William Cowper and politician William Wilberforce, among others. The hyperbolic subtitle does not originate with the author, but the book is fully researched and supplemented by useful appendixes, including a discography and a "Who's Who" of performers who recorded the song, as well as up-to-date references to events in 2002. William Phipps's Amazing Grace in John Newton is the most recent comparable title, but it has a more academic slant and focuses more on the person than the song. Heartily recommended for all collections.
Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The second half of the book is about the history of the song along with various singers who have performed the song. Special attention is given to Judy Collins who introduced the song to a new audience with her 1970 hit recording. The timing appeared to be correct with America entangled in the Vietnam war, Charles Manson was in the news, and people yearned for a less complicated lifestyle. Other singers of the time such as The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn), Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Waters), and Norman Greenbaum (Spirit in the Sky), are mentioned that came out with appropriate songs during this troubled time. Other hymnwriters such as William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper") who appeared to have some emotional problems and wrote some hymns that may be considered on the depressing side are also mentioned. Of interest to me regarding Amazing Grace is that my favorite verse "When we've been there ten thousand years. Bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun." was not written by John Newton, but added to the song by Edwin Othello Excell who may have taken the idea from Harriet Beecher Stowe's book about slavery called Uncle Tom's Cabin or from former slaves. These lines originated in the hymn "Jerusalem, My Happy Home." and then applied to "Amazing Grace by Excell.
There is a lot to learn about this anthem of Christian hymns for everyone. Sadly, there are probably a number of people who think the word "grace" applies only to the name of a girl.
The second half of the book traces the history of the hymn itself. From country churches to concert halls and many recordings, the ups and downs of its popularity and surprising array of artists who have performed it. There is also an exhaustive and interesting list of films, references in other songs, a year by year discography and even a list of products using the "Amazing Grace" name.
In sum, well written and interesting. From the thanks that I have received, I can attest to its being a wonderful gift.