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HarperPerennial Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song

As a young man, John Newton was pressed into the Royal Navy, but was such a rebellious sailor that he was moved to a slave ship in Madeira and eventually became a "servant of slaves in Africa." He was rescued from Africa by a merchant ship, but on the voyage back to England his ship endured an eleven-hour storm on the Atlantic---after which, reflecting on his miraculous survival and on his wretched state in Africa, he converted to Christianity. Back in England, he eventually became a minister and, still later, a vocal abolitionist. During his time as a Church of England parish priest, he and a friend, the poet William Cowper, began experimenting with what was then a relatively new form of religious song, the Protestant hymn, when he wrote "Amazing Grace" for use among his congregation.

The hymn made its way across the Atlantic to South Carolina, where the lyrics were published for the first time with a tune. Through the nineteenth century it appeared in more and more hymnals, and in the twentieth century it rose to become a gospel and folk standard, then exploded into pop music with Judy Collins's masterful 1970 a capella recording, which took over the charts. In fact, the majority of the more than 450 recordings of "Amazing Grace" held by the Library of Congress were made after 1970. Turner traces the hymn through the American gospel tradition in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and interviews contemporary artists to reveal why they were compelled to record the hymn.

steve Turner is the author of Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye, A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song, Hungry for Heaven: Rock and Roll and the Search for Redemption, Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster, and Van Morrison: Too Late to Stop Now. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

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