Amazing Grace - Chords, Lyrics and Origins

Origins

The words to Amazing Grace were written by an Englishman, John Newton, and were first published in 1779.  As a young man, Newton was 'pressed' into the British Navy (forced to join in other words).  He was flogged publicly in front of the crew for trying to dessert and reduced in rank from a midshipman to an ordinary sailor. Shortly after this incident, Newton joined the crew of a slave ship.  He was so insubordinate that his superiors chained him like a slave, and he was imprisoned in West Africa, before his father organized his rescue.  On the voyage back to England, his ship was caught in a severe storm and was taking on water.  At the height of the storm Newton cried out to god to save him.  Some cargo on board the ship shifted, blocking a hole, and the ship was able to stay afloat and continue on to port.  Although Newton undertook further voyages on slave ships after this episode, including three as captain, nonetheless this episode apparently marks the beginning of his conversion to Christianity.

By the time he wrote the words of Amazing Grace, Newton had become a clergyman, and a prominent campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade.  In 1788 he wrote a pamphlet called, 'Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade' in which he said, "It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders."

On more than one occasion, then, Newton was saved from what seemed like certain disaster, and perhaps in some ways from himself, by an outside agency - the amazing grace of the song.  It's tempting to infer, then, that the lyrics were written from his personal experience.

Although 'Amazing Grace' was not particularly well known in Britain, it became popular in the United States during the second great awakening of the early nineteenth century.  There the words began to be sung to the traditional tune, 'New Britain', which is the one that most people would associate it with today.  And finally the song transmuted into an African-American spiritual of great power. 

For a fuller account of the song, see this Wikipedia article.

The beautiful rendition in the youtube video above is sung by Deborah Wai Kapohe.  Deborah sings the first two verses in the key of C, as in the chords section above.  At the beginning of the third verse she moves up to D (so the chords become D, G and A7 instead of C, F and G7).  In the fourth verse she moves up to E (E, A and B7), and in the fifth verse up to F (F, Bb and C7), and then in the sixth verse up to G (G, C and D7), and in the seventh verse up to A (A, D and E7).  Phew!

(It will work just fine, of course, if you stay in C, though you might not sound quite as impressive as Deborah :-).

Chords

C                           F            C

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

                                  G7

That saved a wretch like me.

   C                        F         C

I once was lost, but now am found,

                     G7     F     C

Was blind, but now I see.

Lyrics

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

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

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

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Other American Folk Songs
Other Traditional Folk Songs


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