NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee signed House Bill 0938 into law today. The legislation makes the beloved song “Amazing Grace” the official state hymn of Tennessee.
Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) and Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) introduced HB 0938/SB1416 in February, which makes the hymn written by John Newton in the 1760s an official state song.
In February, a House Naming & Designating Committee recommended the measure for passage. The bill passed with every member voting yes and only one house member, Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) voting no.
Rep. Sparks states that Newton’s hymn became one of the most celebrated songs in modern history.
“WHEREAS, John Newton struggled against the temptation of profits earned by merchants and slavers and uncertainty as to his religious belief during the first two decades of his life”
The legislation speaks about John Newton’s fight to end slavery and his efforts “to help others find a deeper understanding and love through their faith.”
“WHEREAS, Mr. Newton’s conversion from a merchant and slaver to a man of faith led him to speak out against slavery, and although many of England’s large port cities greatly benefited from the slave trade, Mr. Newton and other social critics began to speak out against the practice”
According to a recent Murfreesboro Post article, “I do think that the hymn could bring some healing, if you will, with all the division in the country today,” Sparks said.
Sparks said the story behind the song is one of redemption. From a documentary, he learned of the connection between John Newton, the hymn’s author and a former slave ship captain, and William Wilberforce, a British lawmaker.
After nearly losing his life at sea, Newton “had kind of an awakening moment,” and was inspired to work toward putting an end to the slave trade. He went on to befriend Wilberforce, an advocate for the abolishment of slavery and wrote the song in 1772.
Sparks said he shared this story with students at Middle Tennessee State University during the 2015 protests to rename the campus’ Forrest Hall dormitories.
“That hymn is a powerful hymn,” Sparks said.
He referenced a book recommended by Greg Reish, the director of the MTSU’s Center of Popular Music, called “Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song”.
Sparks says he used the book to research the origin of the hymn. He said that something that stood out to him was a back cover blurb from Bono, the lead-singer of U2. Sparks said he found a live performance where Bono sang “Amazing Grace” in Nashville.
He said the coincidence further solidified his faith in the song.
“That’s more confirmation of the importance of this hymn to reach black and white, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor,” Sparks said.
The hymn “Amazing Grace” has been recorded by several stars with Elvis Presley, Tennessee ties, including Parton, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, the Oak Ridge Boys, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Ivan Fleming.
“Amazing Grace” is now the official hymn of Tennessee.