When originally used in Olney, it is unknown what music, if any, accompanied the verses written by John Newton. Contemporary hymnbooks did not contain music and were simply small books of religious poetry. The first known instance of Newton's lines joined to music was in A Companion to the Countess of Huntingdon's Hymns (London, 1808), where it is set to the tune "Hephzibah" by English composer John Jenkins Husband. Common meter hymns were interchangeable with a variety of tunes; more than twenty musical settings of "Amazing Grace" circulated with varying popularity until 1835 when William Walker assigned Newton's words to a traditional song named "New Britain", which was itself an amalgamation of two melodies ("Gallaher" and "St. Mary") first published in the Columbian Harmony by Charles H. Spilman and Benjamin Shaw (Cincinnati, 1829). Spilman and Shaw, both students at Kentucky's Centre College, compiled their tunebook both for public worship and revivals, to satisfy "the wants of the Church in her triumphal march." Most of the tunes had been previously published, but "Gallaher" and "St. Mary" had not. As neither tune is attributed and both show elements of oral transmission, scholars can only speculate that they are possibly of British origin.
"Amazing Grace", with the words written by Newton and joined with "New Britain", the melody most currently associated with it, appeared for the first time in Walker's shape note tunebook Southern Harmony in 1847. It was, according to author Steve Turner, a "marriage made in heaven ... The music behind 'amazing' had a sense of awe to it. The music behind 'grace' sounded graceful. There was a rise at the point of confession, as though the author was stepping out into the open and making a bold declaration, but a corresponding fall when admitting his blindness." Walker's collection was enormously popular, selling about 600,000 copies all over the U.S. when the total population was just over 20 million. Another shape note tunebook named The Sacred Harp (1844) by Georgia residents Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King became widely influential and continues to be used.
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