Judy Collins put out the call — and the world answered.
Over the past few weeks, 1,000 singers from across the globe — professional and amateur alike — responded to Collins’ request to sing Amazing Grace with her as a sign of solidarity in this unprecedented time.
This new version of Judy’s historic recording is out now, and Alan Cumming, Judith Owen, Steve Earle, Madeleine Peyroux, Mandolin Orange, and Tift Merritt — plus internationally known choirs like The Sixteen, New York Choral Society, Voices International and GOA University Choir — are just some of the singers who participated in this Global Virtual Choir event. All proceeds raised from this single will be going to the World Health Organization Solidarity Response Fund.
“I recorded Amazing Grace with a group of friends at Saint Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia University campus in New York City,” Collins recalls. “When my recording was released, it became enormously popular all over the world. It was written by John Newton in 1772 — a man who evolved from a slave ship captain to a writer of powerful hymns, changing his entire life, and becoming a model for spiritual transformation. That’s what we need today once again. Stay safe, help others, and pray for the planet. I am sending this song out to all the doctors, nurses and patients. We will survive this with love and music and amazing grace.”
Collins first embraced Amazing Grace in 1964 after witnessing marchers singing the hymn and being led by voting and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer; she saw its equal emotional impact on the marchers, witnesses, and law enforcement who opposed the civil rights demonstrators. Considering it as a talisman of sorts for peace, she started to perform the song in her sets from that point on, and it soon became one of her most requested songs when she played live. Judy recorded Amazing Grace for her 1970 album Whales & Nightingales, and connected the recording to the Vietnam War, to which she objected. When asked why, she explained, “I didn’t know what else to do about the war in Vietnam. I had marched, I had voted, I had gone to jail on political actions and worked for the candidates I believed in. The war was still raging. There was nothing left to do, I thought, but sing Amazing Grace.” It’s a sentiment that’s no less true today.