Amazing Grace: A Cultural History of the Beloved Hymn

Univ. of California. Oct. 2023. 216p. ISBN 9780520391826. $19.95. MUSIC
The song “Amazing Grace” is so ubiquitous in American culture that it’s likely U.S. readers especially will hear it in their heads upon glancing at the book’s title. How a hymn written by a trader of enslaved people–turned–minister became an anthem of grief and liberation is a curious and complicated story, and Walvin (emeritus, history, Univ. of York; A World Transformed) is an able guide, particularly to the song’s early years. His expertise as a historian of the era and conditions of enslavement in the Western world strengthens his narrative. The latter chapters, focusing as they must on mass media and the modern recording industry, might make some readers wish for the insights of a musicologist or pop culture historian—or even just more from the many artists who’ve recorded the hymn; Mahalia Jackson’s and Judy Collins’s renditions stand as landmarks.
VERDICT A solid and well-researched effort about this famous, often-sung song. Will be appreciated by specialists, but it’s accessible to anyone interested in the history of the hymn.
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