This week we kicked off our Solo Guitar series with eight arrangements of Amazing Grace.
The series features original arrangements from an all-star cast of guitarists: Isaiah Sharkey, Justin Johnson, Ariel Posen, Nicholas Veinoglou, Kazuki Isogai, Tora Dahle Aagård, Thomas Griggs, and Gilad Hekselman.
But before we get into the arrangements, let's first explore the origins of the song and check out a basic lead sheet.
Sung in places of worship around the world Amazing Grace just might be one of the most popular hymns in existence. The song itself is simple and beautiful. Its origins and path to prominence as a Black spiritual, however, are more complex.
For starters, the song was originally written in 1772 by John Newton – a White English poet and Anglican clergyman. Newton was a slave trader for at least 7 years. In fact, it wasn't until later in his life that he became a passionate abolitionist who advocated for an end to slavery. There are more than 20 melodies associated with the song, but the melody that we all know today came from another White man: American Baptist song leader William Walker.
The song became influential in the Southern United States during the Second Great Awakening (a Christian religious revival that happened during the 1800s.) During this time, people (both Black and White) would congregate outside for religious services. Songs like Amazing Grace played an important role in these services – the simple melody and verses were easy for those in attendance to quickly learn and recite.
As the song spread around the United States through religious services, it gained popularity as a Black spiritual. When Harriet Beecher Stowe included the song in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, she further cemented the hymn's place in cultural history.
What is it about Amazing Grace that makes widely beloved and embraced as a Black spiritual? According to historian James Basker, "It's just about that thing that human beings share, which is pain, and the imaginative yearning. And this is the thing about human beings. We are able to imagine, and to yearn for, joy and peace — for relief from the miseries of this world."
We'd love to hear your versions of these tunes. Cover any of these arrangements and tag #SongSquad on Instagram to be featured.
Check out all the arrangements below, just click the artist to view if you're already a member or become a Pickup Music Member for $6/mo to get access.