The song we now know as Amazing Grace was originally a verse prayer called Faith’s Review and Expectation, which was written by English priest John Newton in 1773.
In the 1830s, it caught the attention of American composer William Walker. He was a Baptist song leader, sometimes known as Singing Billy.
Walker set the words of Faith’s Review and Expectation to a melody called New Britain, which had become popular throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Carolina.
It may have originated in Scotland and been brought over by early Scottish settlers.
Walker published the newly merged song in a book called, Southern Harmony. The book was a huge success and sold more than half a million copies throughout the US.
Those kind of sales figures would be impressive today but back then, when the population was much smaller and many were illiterate, it was quite remarkable.
Once the music had been added, Faith’s Review and Expectation quickly became known by its opening two words, Amazing Grace.
The song was largely unknown in England where the lyrics had originated but was quite popular in America. However, it was not until it began to attract the attention of gospel singers in the early 20th century that it really took off.
Amazing Grace underwent a surge in popularity. Soon it spread beyond the gospel movement and became part of the musical mainstream. By the 1960s it was being recorded by performers from all sorts of musical backgrounds from opera to folk and country, and even rock and roll.
Probably the most popular version of Amazing Grace by Irish artists was the one recorded by Celtic Woman. It features a full orchestra, Scottish pipers and was filmed against the stunning background of an Irish stately home.
Amazing Grace is now one of the most instantly recognisable songs throughout the world. Its popularity shows no sign of waning.