The Tabernacle Choir Blog

"Amazing Grace": Mack Wilberg’s Arrangement of the Famous Folk Hymn

We’ve all heard “Amazing Grace” sung in many forms, from the country to pop, Celtic to gospel. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Willie Nelson have recorded it and it has been used in many films and pop culture settings. The hymn is one of the most recognizable English language songs and has been recorded over 6,600 times. "It may be the most recorded song on the planet," said Jerry Bailey, executive at Broadcast Music, Inc., of Nashville.

Mack Wilberg, director the Mormon Tabernacle Choir arranged his own version of “Amazing Grace,” which starts with the men singing in unison, gradually adds vocal parts and builds to an awe-inspiring culmination of harmonies. Of the hymn itself Wilberg said, "It's a perfect marriage of text and tune…it just resonates in a way that few other hymns do." He added, "It has universal appeal.”

The lyrics to the Christian hymn were written by English poet and clergyman John Newton and were published in 1779. Growing up without religious faith, Newton wrote the words from personal experience. His spiritual conversion came while he was aboard a ship during a violent storm when called out to God for mercy. Although the hymn has been set to more than 20 melodies, it was set to a tune named “New Britain” in 1835, which is the melody most commonly heard today.

In the video below, the Choir performs “Amazing Grace” from the banks of the Missouri River, which was filmed while the Choir was on tour in 2011. In this rendition, arranged by Wilberg, bagpipes begin the hymn and percussion is added as the music builds in intensity. The hymn is included on the album Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: American Folk Hymns and Spirituals. See below the video for lyrics.

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.

 

The Lord has promised good to me


His word my hope secures;


He will my shield and portion be,


As long as life endures.

 

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,


and mortal life shall cease,


I shall possess within the veil,


A life of joy and peace

 

When we've been here ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We've no less days to sing God's praise

Than when we've first begun.

 

We've no less days to sing God's praise

Than when we've first begun.

Begun, begun, begun, begun, begun