It’s a cliche, sure, but my favorite gospel song of all time is “Amazing Grace.” I was reminded anew of why I love this song so much last weekend, when I took my daughters to see a local church praise band, from Riverland Hills Baptist Church, in an outdoor concert. The girls enjoyed the music–frankly they enjoy anything they can dance to–but it wasn’t until the band launched into a soulful, rocking version of “Amazing Grace,” that my oldest (7 years old) began singing along.
She and her sister have been singing weekly with our own church’s youth program, and apparently they have been doing “Amazing Grace,” because she knew all the words, at least to the first verse and chorus. I’ve had some great musical moments with my children already, but hearing that song come out of her mouth, with the kind of energetic abandon reserved only for children, has to rank up there at or near the top.
It’s that ability to lose oneself in the song, while completely identifying with the songwriter, that gives “Amazing Grace,” its strength and staying power as not just my own, but many people of faith’s favorite hymn. It’s also an easily adaptable song, as I used to hear it at church camp sung to the tune of The Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Trolling around online for different versions of the song, I came across the following take, which happened very close to home at Bill’s Music Shop & Picking Parlor in West Columbia, SC. I’ve written about Walter Liniger before, and even shared a seminar stage with him once at the State Museum (Along with Danielle Howle, Saddler Taylor, and Dr. Larry Klein), but I’m not familiar with the courses he teaches at the University of South Carolina. This particular version of “Amazing Grace” features a harmonica ‘orchestra’ on a surprisingly moving instrumental rendition.
For a much different, and better known version, here’s the Queen of Gospel herself, Mahalia Jackson–not sure of the date of this clip, but she breaks it down, builds it up, and generally just sings the heck out of it. Every other female who sang it after Mahalia stole most of theirs from her interpretation.
Even the still-living shell of Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith fame) can’t ruin the song–here, he does a fairly painful version which is redeemed only by the fact that this shows he has in fact set foot inside a church. Plus, it’s kind of fun to hear the woman from the church’s choir totally blow him away, vocally. I salute Tyler’s earnestness, if not his tunefulness.
For the real story of how “Amazing Grace” came about, and some fascinating background on spirituals in general, this hugely popular clip will do nicely:
In closing, and to tie this back in to what spurred me to write this in the first place, as I was pulling up various “Amazing Grace” videos tonight, my younger daughter (5 years old), who sings in the same youth program as her sister, crawled into bed beside me and started singing along, too.