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"Amazing Grace" is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807).
Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life's path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. "Amazing Grace" was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year's Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper's Olney Hymns but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States, however, "Amazing Grace" was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named "New Britain" to which it is most frequently sung today.
With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, "Amazing Grace" is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. Author Gilbert Chase writes that it is "without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns", and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. "Amazing Grace" saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, occasionally appearing on popular music charts.
John Newton's conversion
How industrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinner to what I was.
John Newton, 1778
According to the Dictionary of American Hymnology "Amazing Grace" is John Newton's spiritual autobiography in verse.
In 1725, Newton was born in Wapping, a district in London near the Thames. His father was a shipping merchant who was brought up as a Catholic but had Protestant sympathies, and his mother was a devout Independent unaffiliated with the Anglican Church. She had intended Newton to become a clergyman, but she died of tuberculosis when he was six years old. For the next few years, Newton was raised by his emotionally distant stepmother while his father was at sea, and spent some time at a boarding school where he was mistreated. At the age of eleven, he joined his father on a ship as an apprentice; his seagoing career would be marked by headstrong disobedience.
As a youth, Newton began a pattern of coming very close to death, examining his relationship with God, then relapsing into bad habits. As a sailor, he denounced his faith after being influenced by a shipmate who discussed Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, a book by the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, with him. In a series of letters he later wrote, "Like an unwary sailor who quits his port just before a rising storm, I renounced the hopes and comforts of the Gospel at the very time when every other comfort was about to fail me." His disobedience caused him to be pressed into the Royal Navy, and he took advantage of opportunities to overstay his leave and finally deserted to visit Mary "Polly" Catlett, a family friend with whom he had fallen in love. After enduring humiliation for deserting,[a] he managed to get himself traded to a slave ship where he began a career in slave trading.[b]
Engraving of an older heavyset man, wearing robes, vestments, and wig
John Newton in his later years
Newton often openly mocked the captain by creating obscene poems and songs about him that became so popular the crew began to join in. He entered into disagreements with several colleagues that resulted in his being starved almost to death, imprisoned while at sea and chained like the slaves they carried, then outright enslaved and forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone near the Sherbro River. After several months he came to think of Sierra Leone as his home, but his father intervened after Newton sent him a letter describing his circumstances, and a ship found him by coincidence.[c] Newton claimed the only reason he left was because of Polly.
While aboard the ship Greyhound, Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. In a culture where sailors commonly used oaths and swore, Newton was admonished several times for not only using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery. In March 1748, while the Greyhound was in the North Atlantic, a violent storm came upon the ship that was so rough it swept overboard a crew member who was standing where Newton had been moments before.[d] After hours of the crew emptying water from the ship and expecting to be capsized, Newton and another mate tied themselves to the ship's pump to keep from being washed overboard, working for several hours. After proposing the measure to the captain, Newton had turned and said, "If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!" Newton rested briefly before returning to the deck to steer for the next eleven hours. During his time at the wheel he pondered his divine challenge.
About two weeks later, the battered ship and starving crew landed in Lough Swilly, Ireland. For several weeks before the storm, Newton had been reading The Christian's Pattern, a summary of the 15th-century The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. The memory of his own "Lord have mercy upon us!" uttered during a moment of desperation in the storm did not leave him; he began to ask if he was worthy of God's mercy or in any way redeemable as he had not only neglected his faith but directly opposed it, mocking others who showed theirs, deriding and denouncing God as a myth. He came to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him.
Newton's conversion was not immediate, but he contacted Polly's family and announced his intentions to marry her. Her parents were hesitant as he was known to be unreliable and impetuous. They knew he was profane, but they allowed him to write to Polly, and he set to begin to submit to authority for her sake. He sought a place on a slave ship bound for Africa, and Newton and his crewmates participated in most of the same activities he had written about before; the only immorality from which he was able to free himself was profanity. After a severe illness his resolve was renewed, yet he retained the same attitude towards slavery as was held by his contemporaries.[e] Newton continued in the slave trade through several voyages where he sailed up rivers in Africa – now as a captain – procured slaves being offered for sale in larger ports, and subsequently transported them to North America. In between voyages, he married Polly in 1750 and he found it more difficult to leave her at the beginning of each trip. After three shipping experiences in the slave trade, Newton was promised a position as ship's captain with cargo unrelated to slavery when, at the age of thirty, he collapsed and never sailed again.
Engraving of a two-storey building, eight windows across, partially obscured by trees and shrubs
The vicarage in Olney, where Newton wrote the hymn that would become "Amazing Grace"
Working as a customs agent in Liverpool starting in 1756, Newton began to teach himself Latin, Greek, and theology. He and Polly immersed themselves in the church community, and Newton's passion was so impressive that his friends suggested he become a priest in the Church of England. He was turned down by John Gilbert, Archbishop of York, in 1758, ostensibly for having no university degree, although the more likely reasons were his leanings toward evangelism and tendency to socialize with Methodists. Newton continued his devotions, and after being encouraged by a friend, he wrote about his experiences in the slave trade and his conversion. George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth, impressed with his story, sponsored Newton for ordination by John Green, Bishop of Lincoln, and offered him the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire, in 1764.
Main article: Olney Hymns
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.
John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779
Olney was a village of about 2,500 residents whose main industry was making lace by hand. The people were mostly illiterate and many of them were poor. Newton's preaching was unique in that he shared many of his own experiences from the pulpit; many clergy preached from a distance, not admitting any intimacy with temptation or sin. He was involved in his parishioners' lives and was much loved, although his writing and delivery were sometimes unpolished. But his devotion and conviction were apparent and forceful, and he often said his mission was to "break a hard heart and to heal a broken heart". He struck a friendship with William Cowper, a gifted writer who had failed at a career in law and suffered bouts of insanity, attempting suicide several times. Cowper enjoyed Olney – and Newton's company; he was also new to Olney and had gone through a spiritual conversion similar to Newton's. Together, their effect on the local congregation was impressive. In 1768, they found it necessary to start a weekly prayer meeting to meet the needs of an increasing number of parishioners. They also began writing lessons for children.
Partly from Cowper's literary influence, and partly because learned vicars were expected to write verses, Newton began to try his hand at hymns, which had become popular through the language, made plain for common people to understand. Several prolific hymn writers were at their most productive in the 18th century, including Isaac Watts – whose hymns Newton had grown up hearing – and Charles Wesley, with whom Newton was familiar. Wesley's brother John, the eventual founder of the Methodist Church, had encouraged Newton to go into the clergy.[g] Watts was a pioneer in English hymn writing, basing his work after the Psalms. The most prevalent hymns by Watts and others were written in the common meter in 126.96.36.199: the first line is eight syllables and the second is six.
Newton and Cowper attempted to present a poem or hymn for each prayer meeting. The lyrics to "Amazing Grace" were written in late 1772 and probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, 1773. A collection of the poems Newton and Cowper had written for use in services at Olney was bound and published anonymously in 1779 under the title Olney Hymns. Newton contributed 280 of the 348 texts in Olney Hymns; "1 Chronicles 17:16–17, Faith's Review and Expectation" was the title of the poem with the first line "Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)".
The general impact of Olney Hymns was immediate and it became a widely popular tool for evangelicals in Britain for many years. Scholars appreciated Cowper's poetry somewhat more than Newton's plaintive and plain language driven from his forceful personality. The most prevalent themes in the verses written by Newton in Olney Hymns are faith in salvation, wonder at God's grace, his love for Jesus, and his cheerful exclamations of the joy he found in his faith. As a reflection of Newton's connection to his parishioners, he wrote many of the hymns in first person, admitting his own experience with sin. Bruce Hindmarsh in Sing Them Over Again To Me: Hymns and Hymnbooks in America considers "Amazing Grace" an excellent example of Newton's testimonial style afforded by the use of this perspective. Several of Newton's hymns were recognized as great work ("Amazing Grace" was not among them) while others seem to have been included to fill in when Cowper was unable to write. Jonathan Aitken calls Newton, specifically referring to "Amazing Grace", an "unashamedly middlebrow lyricist writing for a lowbrow congregation", noting that only twenty-one of the nearly 150 words used in all six verses have more than one syllable.
William Phipps in the Anglican Theological Review and author James Basker have interpreted the first stanza of "Amazing Grace" as evidence of Newton's realization that his participation in the slave trade was his wretchedness, perhaps representing a wider common understanding of Newton's motivations. Newton joined forces with a young man named William Wilberforce, the British Member of Parliament who led the Parliamentarian campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, culminating in the Slave Trade Act 1807. However, Newton became an ardent and outspoken abolitionist after he left Olney in the 1780s; he never connected the construction of the hymn that became "Amazing Grace" to anti-slavery sentiments. The lyrics in Olney Hymns were arranged by their association to the Biblical verses that would be used by Newton and Cowper in their prayer meetings and did not address any political objective. For Newton, the beginning of the year was a time to reflect on one's spiritual progress. At the same time he completed a diary – which has since been lost – that he had begun 17 years before, two years after he quit sailing. The last entry of 1772 was a recounting of how much he had changed since then.
And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant's house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O LORD God.
1 Chronicles 17:16–17, King James Version
The title ascribed to the hymn, "1 Chronicles 17:16–17", refers to David's reaction to the prophet Nathan telling him that God intends to maintain his family line forever. Some Christians interpret this as a prediction that Jesus Christ, as a descendant of David, was promised by God as the salvation for all people. Newton's sermon on that January day in 1773 focused on the necessity to express one's gratefulness for God's guidance, that God is involved in the daily lives of Christians though they may not be aware of it, and that patience for deliverance from the daily trials of life is warranted when the glories of eternity await. Newton saw himself a sinner like David who had been chosen, perhaps undeservedly, and was humbled by it. According to Newton, unconverted sinners were "blinded by the god of this world" until "mercy came to us not only undeserved but undesired ... our hearts endeavored to shut him out till he overcame us by the power of his grace."
The New Testament served as the basis for many of the lyrics of "Amazing Grace". The first verse, for example, can be traced to the story of the Prodigal Son. In the Gospel of Luke the father says, "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found". The story of Jesus healing a blind man who tells the Pharisees that he can now see is told in the Gospel of John. Newton used the words "I was blind but now I see" and declared "Oh to grace how great a debtor!" in his letters and diary entries as early as 1752. The effect of the lyrical arrangement, according to Bruce Hindmarsh, allows an instant release of energy in the exclamation "Amazing grace!", to be followed by a qualifying reply in "how sweet the sound". In An Annotated Anthology of Hymns, Newton's use of an exclamation at the beginning of his verse is called "crude but effective" in an overall composition that "suggest(s) a forceful, if simple, statement of faith". Grace is recalled three times in the following verse, culminating in Newton's most personal story of his conversion, underscoring the use of his personal testimony with his parishioners.
The sermon preached by Newton was his last, of those that William Cowper heard in Olney, since Cowper's mental instability returned shortly thereafter. Steve Turner, author of Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, suggests Newton may have had his friend in mind, employing the themes of assurance and deliverance from despair for Cowper's benefit.
Original long hymnal with shape note music notation of a tune titled "New Britain" set to Newton's first verse, with four subsequent verses printed below. Underneath is another hymn titled "Cookham".
An 1847 publication of Southern Harmony, showing the title "New Britain" and shape note music.
Although it had its roots in England, "Amazing Grace" became an integral part of the Christian tapestry in the United States. More than 60 of Newton and Cowper's hymns were republished in other British hymnals and magazines, but "Amazing Grace" was not, appearing only once in a 1780 hymnal sponsored by the Countess of Huntingdon. Scholar John Julian commented in his 1892 A Dictionary of Hymnology that outside of the United States, the song was unknown and it was "far from being a good example of Newton's finest work".[h] Between 1789 and 1799, four variations of Newton's hymn were published in the U.S. in Baptist, Dutch Reformed, and Congregationalist hymnodies; by 1830 Presbyterians and Methodists also included Newton's verses in their hymnals.
The greatest influences in the 19th century that propelled "Amazing Grace" to spread across the U.S. and become a staple of religious services in many denominations and regions were the Second Great Awakening and the development of shape note singing communities. A tremendous religious movement swept the U.S. in the early 19th century, marked by the growth and popularity of churches and religious revivals that got their start in Kentucky and Tennessee. Unprecedented gatherings of thousands of people attended camp meetings where they came to experience salvation; preaching was fiery and focused on saving the sinner from temptation and backsliding. Religion was stripped of ornament and ceremony, and made as plain and simple as possible; sermons and songs often used repetition to get across to a rural population of poor and mostly uneducated people the necessity of turning away from sin. Witnessing and testifying became an integral component to these meetings, where a congregation member or even a stranger would rise and recount his turn from a sinful life to one of piety and peace. "Amazing Grace" was one of many hymns that punctuated fervent sermons, although the contemporary style used a refrain, borrowed from other hymns, that employed simplicity and repetition such as:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Shout, shout for glory,
Shout, shout aloud for glory;
Brother, sister, mourner,
All shout glory hallelujah.
Simultaneously, an unrelated movement of communal singing was established throughout the South and Western states. A format of teaching music to illiterate people appeared in 1800. It used four sounds to symbolize the basic scale: fa-sol-la-fa-sol-la-mi-fa. Each sound was accompanied by a specifically shaped note and thus became known as shape note singing. The method was simple to learn and teach, so schools were established throughout the South and West. Communities would come together for an entire day of singing in a large building where they sat in four distinct areas surrounding an open space, one member directing the group as a whole. Most of the music was Christian, but the purpose of communal singing was not primarily spiritual. Communities either could not afford music accompaniment or rejected it out of a Calvinistic sense of simplicity, so the songs were sung a cappella.
Grainy portrait of a middle aged white man in a black suit
William Walker, the composer who first joined John Newton's verses to "New Britain", to create the song that has become "Amazing Grace"
"New Britain" tune
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. A manuscript from 1828 by Lucius Chapin, a famous hymn writer of that time, contains a tune very close to "St. Mary", but that does not mean that he wrote it.
"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.
Another verse was first recorded in Harriet Beecher Stowe's immensely influential 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Three verses were emblematically sung by Tom in his hour of deepest crisis. He sings the sixth and fifth verses in that order, and Stowe included another verse not written by Newton that had been passed down orally in African American communities for at least 50 years. It was originally one of between 50 and 70 verses of a song titled "Jerusalem, My Happy Home" that first appeared in a 1790 book called A Collection of Sacred Ballads:
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun
"Amazing Grace" came to be an emblem of a Christian movement and a symbol of the U.S. itself as the country was involved in a great political experiment, attempting to employ democracy as a means of government. Shape note singing communities, with all the members sitting around an open center, each song employing a different director, illustrated this in practice. Simultaneously, the U.S. began to expand westward into previously unexplored territory that was often wilderness. The "dangers, toils, and snares" of Newton's lyrics had both literal and figurative meanings for Americans. This became poignantly true during the most serious test of American cohesion in the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" was included in two hymnals distributed to soldiers and with death so real and imminent, religious services in the military became commonplace. The hymn was translated into other languages as well: while on the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee sang Christian hymns as a way of coping with the ongoing tragedy, and a version of the song by Samuel Worcester that had been translated into the Cherokee language became very popular.
Although "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" was popular, other versions existed regionally. Primitive Baptists in the Appalachian region often used "New Britain" with other hymns, and sometimes sing the words of "Amazing Grace" to other folk songs, including titles such as "In the Pines", "Pisgah", "Primrose", and "Evan", as all are able to be sung in common meter, of which the majority of their repertoire consists. A tune named "Arlington" accompanied Newton's verses as much as "New Britain" for a time in the late 19th century.
Two musical arrangers named Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey heralded another religious revival in the cities of the U.S. and Europe, giving the song international exposure. Moody's preaching and Sankey's musical gifts were significant; their arrangements were the forerunners of gospel music, and churches all over the U.S. were eager to acquire them. Moody and Sankey began publishing their compositions in 1875, and "Amazing Grace" appeared three times with three different melodies, but they were the first to give it its title; hymns were typically published using the first line of the lyrics, or the name of the tune such as "New Britain". A publisher named Edwin Othello Excell gave the version of "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" immense popularity by publishing it in a series of hymnals that were used in urban churches. Excell altered some of Walker's music, making it more contemporary and European, giving "New Britain" some distance from its rural folk-music origins. Excell's version was more palatable for a growing urban middle class and arranged for larger church choirs. Several editions featuring Newton's first three stanzas and the verse previously included by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin were published by Excell between 1900 and 1910, and his version of "Amazing Grace" became the standard form of the song in American churches.
With the advent of recorded music and radio, "Amazing Grace" began to cross over from primarily a gospel standard to secular audiences. The ability to record combined with the marketing of records to specific audiences allowed "Amazing Grace" to take on thousands of different forms in the 20th century. Where Edwin Othello Excell sought to make the singing of "Amazing Grace" uniform throughout thousands of churches, records allowed artists to improvise with the words and music specific to each audience. AllMusic lists more than 7,000 recordings – including re-releases and compilations – as of September 2011. Its first recording is an a cappella version from 1922 by the Sacred Harp Choir. It was included from 1926 to 1930 in Okeh Records' catalogue, which typically concentrated strongly on blues and jazz. Demand was high for black gospel recordings of the song by H. R. Tomlin and J. M. Gates. A poignant sense of nostalgia accompanied the recordings of several gospel and blues singers in the 1940s and 1950s who used the song to remember their grandparents, traditions, and family roots. It was recorded with musical accompaniment for the first time in 1930 by Fiddlin' John Carson, although to another folk hymn named "At the Cross", not to "New Britain". "Amazing Grace" is emblematic of several kinds of folk music styles, often used as the standard example to illustrate such musical techniques as lining out and call and response, that have been practiced in both black and white folk music.
Those songs come out of conviction and suffering. The worst voices can get through singing them 'cause they're telling their experiences.
Mahalia Jackson's 1947 version received significant radio airplay, and as her popularity grew throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she often sang it at public events such as concerts at Carnegie Hall. Author James Basker states that the song has been employed by African Americans as the "paradigmatic Negro spiritual" because it expresses the joy felt at being delivered from slavery and worldly miseries. Anthony Heilbut, author of The Gospel Sound, states that the "dangers, toils, and snares" of Newton's words are a "universal testimony" of the African American experience. During the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, the song took on a political tone. Mahalia Jackson employed "Amazing Grace" for Civil Rights marchers, writing that she used it "to give magical protection – a charm to ward off danger, an incantation to the angels of heaven to descend ... I was not sure the magic worked outside the church walls ... in the open air of Mississippi. But I wasn't taking any chances." Folk singer Judy Collins, who knew the song before she could remember learning it, witnessed Fannie Lou Hamer leading marchers in Mississippi in 1964, singing "Amazing Grace". Collins also considered it a talisman of sorts, and saw its equal emotional impact on the marchers, witnesses, and law enforcement who opposed the civil rights demonstrators. According to fellow folk singer Joan Baez, it was one of the most requested songs from her audiences, but she never realized its origin as a hymn; by the time she was singing it in the 1960s she said it had "developed a life of its own". It even made an appearance at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 during Arlo Guthrie's performance.
Collins decided to record it in the late 1960s amid an atmosphere of counterculture introspection; she was part of an encounter group that ended a contentious meeting by singing "Amazing Grace" as it was the only song to which all the members knew the words. Her producer was present and suggested she include a version of it on her 1970 album Whales & Nightingales. Collins, who had a history of alcohol abuse, claimed that the song was able to "pull her through" to recovery. It was recorded in St. Paul's, the chapel at Columbia University, chosen for the acoustics. She chose an a cappella arrangement that was close to Edwin Othello Excel
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