Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725-1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, Amazing Grace is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. In 1835 William Walker assigned Newton's words to a traditional song named "New Britain", to create the version we know today, which appeared for the first time in Walker's shape note tunebook Southern Harmony in 1847.
"Down by the Riverside" (also known as "Ain't Gonna Study War No More" and "Gonna lay down my burden") is a gospel song. It was first published in "Plantation Melodies: A Collection of Modern, Popular and Old-time Negro-Songs of the Southland", Chicago, the Rodeheaver Company, 1918. The song is first recorded by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet in 1920 (published by Columbia in 1922) and there are at least 14 black gospel recordings before World War II. It has been featured in the Nintendo Wii games Just Dance 2 and Just Dance 3 and on television in Spongebob Squarepants and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" is a traditional American spiritual. In 1933, it was collected by Frank Warner from the singing of Sue Thomas in North Carolina. Warner performed the song during the 1940s and 1950s and recorded it on the Elektra Album American Folk Songs and Ballads in 1952. It was quickly picked up by both American gospel singers and British skiffle and pop musicians and continues to be widely performed today. The song has also appeared in many television and films, including Sesame Street, Con Air, Tootsie and Rocket Man.
Just a closer Walk is a traditional gospel song. It is likely to have emerged from Southern African American churches in the ninetieth century - there are a number of songs with similar lyrics around that time. It was first recorded in 1941 by the Selah Jubilee singers and in 1950 was a hit for Red Foley, selling over a million copies. It has been widely performed and recorded since. Through the lyrics the singer admits their weakness, imploring God to "keep me from all wrong."
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen is a spiritual song. The song is well known and many cover versions of it have been done by artist such as Marian Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong among others. Anderson had her first successful recording with a version of this song on the Victor label in 1925. Horne recorded a version of the song in 1946. Deep River Boys recorded their version in Oslo on August 29, 1958.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is a historic American Negro spiritual. The earliest known recording was in 1909, by the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University. It has since become one of the most well-known of all spirituals, having been widely performed during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s, in TV and film and even having become the anthem of the England rugby team.
"Go Down Moses" is an American Negro spiritual. It describes events in the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically Exodus 7:26: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me", in which God commands Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. In the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the slavemaster.
"Deep River" is an anonymous spiritual of African American origin. It has been sung in several films, including the 1929 film version of Show Boat, although it was not used in the original show. The melody was also adapted into the popular song "Dear Old Southland", in 1921. Deep River is sung as the closing spiritual in Michael Tippett's oratorio, A Child of Our Time.
Steal Away is a spiritual from the African American tradition. The song was composed by Wallace Willis, a slave of a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862. It and has been recorded by many artists, including Pat Boone and Nat King Cole, and was used in the oratorio "A Child of Our Time' by English composer Michael Tippett.
This old spiritual refers to Daniel in the lion's den - an old testament story in which Daniel is thrown into a lionís den as a punishment for praying but is later found unharmed. It also mentions Jonah, who was famously swallowed by a whale but survived. So the song seems to be offering hope that even if things are not going well, there may be a way through.