The Amazing Graces
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Later, abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a severe storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm. Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master, a profession in which he served for several years. Bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips, he admitted to sometimes treating the slaves abhorrently.
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In , after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned the slave trade, and seafaring, altogether, wholeheartedly devoting his life to God's service. In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade.
He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see. Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written "Amazing Grace" if not for his tumultuous past.
A movie named for the song was made in that tells the story of William Wilberforce's fight for abolition, with Albert Finney playing a repentant John Newton. A world premier musical of the same name launched in late that focuses more on Newton's story and journey and its influence on the song.
The Story Behind Amazing Grace
Even former President Barack Obama gave a powerful rendition during his eulogy for reverend and state senator Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the Charleston church shooting in The recording of the album was filmed by Warner Brothers and was slated for release around the same time as the audio recording, to be screened as a double-bill with the film Super Fly. The first problem was that the film's director, Sydney Pollack, didn't use a clapperboard before each take while recording. The process was unpredictable and free-flowing, sometimes improvisational.
And so there was no seamless place to start and re-start takes. As a result, the sound and picture were not synchronized, and because there was no easy way to restore it at the time, the film sat in a vault until , when it was turned over to producer Alan Elliott.
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It took Elliott two years to synchronize the film, and he had designs to release it in , but Aretha, by that point in her late 60s, did not want the film released unless she was guaranteed proper compensation. When Elliott attempted to screen the film at festivals, she sued repeatedly.
'Amazing Grace'—The story behind one of the best-loved songs of all time
Aretha wanted a large share of the profits that the film was slated to gain, and that seems fair: She was the basis for whatever success the film might have, and therefore had a stake in trying to control how the film appeared and got distributed. After a final lawsuit in kept the film shelved, Aretha said : "Justice, respect, and what is right prevailed, and one's right to own their own self-image.
After Aretha died in , Elliott was summoned to Detroit by a friend of Aretha's surviving family members. He was asked to show them the film, which none of them had ever seen. And just like that, the clouds that had obscured this magic for 46 years slowly began to break. It must be said that Amazing Grace is a singular album, even without footage to bring it to life. It's not just an excellent collection of songs—it's an album that Aretha didn't have to make in the first place.
By , she was established as a star.
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
She'd headlined major venues like the Fillmore West. Still, there was little risk in her decision to make an album showcasing a return to the church.
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As a child in Detroit, she had first come into her voice at New Bethel Baptist Church, under the guidance of her father, the Reverend C. With a voice like Aretha's, the distance between soul music and music of the soul is short, so, at worst, Amazing Grace was slated to be an album of great singing that might read as a departure for some of her new fans, and a return for some of her older fans.
Yet it became, and remains, Aretha's best-selling album of all time— and the best-selling live gospel album of all time. It won Aretha a Grammy in With the album's phenomenal success in mind, I think about the small but important distance between gospel as popular music and gospel as a vehicle for salvation: how it is possible to take in the music without much concern for salvation, but still be carried off to a place that feels holy.
The songs on Amazing Grace are traditional gospel songs. Some are re-worked or re-imagined, but they're not like many of the contemporary gospel songs you can hear on the radio today, where the lyrical gestures toward the beloved could be of a spiritual nature, or else something more flimsy and carnal.
Aretha sings "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Mary Don't You Weep" and "Amazing Grace," and her renditions of these songs are not about extracting the divine for the sake of vague romanticism, but rather about finding new ways to get the divine into the bodies of each listener, even the ones who might not have been expecting it.
This is Aretha, at the height of her game, coming back to see if she could still match the swelling voices of a choir; to see if the words of a hymn could still move her to tears, mid-song. It is good for a person to be remembered for the songs they choose to sing when they could've sung anything else. Still, as spectacular as the album is, it must also be said that you do need to see the film, all two hours of it, start to finish.
The Resurrection of Aretha Franklin in 'Amazing Grace'
It proceeds with an emotional momentum that makes the film feel much shorter than it is. There are too many delicious moments, even outside of the songs.
Oh, the entrances. On night one, Reverend Cleveland summons in the Southern California Community Choir, and from the church entrance a row of glistening silver vests sways down toward the aisles. On night two of the recording, Aretha shows up to the church in a glorious sprawl of a fur coat, and the beams of light from above trip over themselves in an attempt to light her path to the stage. Please bring proof of job with you.
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