Amazing Grace is the best-known hymn of all times. And now it is making a huge comeback in popularity on YouTube, thanks to Wintley Phipps who is one of my favorite gospel singers. I have owned his cassettes and CDs for more than twenty-five years. He is also the President of The U.S. Dream Academy, an organization for children of prisoners.
He makes a statement that most Negro Spirituals were written on the black keys of the piano, and then he proves it. He plays “Every time I feel the Spirit”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, and then “Amazing Grace”, a so-called “white spiritual.” The white spirituals were written by white composers who used only the black keys.
Because I am a music teacher, I know those five keys (notes) are called the pentatonic scale, but in early America were referred to as the “slave scale”. They build the power and pathos of the Negro Spirituals with their unique West African Sorrow Chant sound.
The words to Amazing Grace were written by John Newton, a former Captain of a Slave Ship. After Newton came to salvation through Jesus Christ, he heard a melody coming from the belly of the ship, and it is believed it was to that sorrowful melody that he wrote the words and named it Amazing Grace. Go to the Copyright Office and you will see “Words, John Newton. Music, Unknown.”
Wintley says he believes God planned it to be written that way to remind us that we are all humans in common, no matter what race, creed, or color we happen to be. We are all connected by God’s Amazing Grace.
In his deep, passionate voice, Wintley then begins – without words – to sing Amazing Grace in the way he imagines John Newton first heard it coming up out of the belly of the ship. His pathos is overwhelming, and his natural singing talent puts it over the top. If you have not watched the video you are depriving yourself of an encouraging inspiration that transcends words.
Amazing Grace, Wintley Phipps
To date, 2.5 million people have watched the video, and most of them may never have realized how powerful this song, played only on the black keys of the piano truly is.
In case you want to sing along, or you have never heard all of the verses, here they are.
Words by John Newton 1779
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.
‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through 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 promised good to me.
His Word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
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’d first begun.
May God bless you as you listen to Wintley Phipps, a beautiful African-American singer, singing only the black notes.
(c)2008 April Lorier