Composers Datebook®

Adolphus Hailstork's 'Amazing Grace'

Composer's Datebook - September 24, 2023


On today’s date in 1875, one of the greatest musical match-makers of all time died in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His name was William Walker, an American Baptist shape-note-singing master who published several collections of traditional shape note tunes.

Now, “shape note” refers to a simple musical notation designed for communal singing. In his 1835 collection, Southern Harmony, Walker married a shape-note tune known as “New Britain” to a hymn text titled “Amazing Grace,” written by an Anglican clergyman and abolitionist named John Newton.

Walker’s collection was a bestseller in the 19th century, and two centuries later, “Amazing Grace” has become one of the best-known and best-loved hymns of our time.

In 2011, a new orchestral fanfare based on “Amazing Grace,” by African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork, was published and subsequently recorded by the Virginia Symphony — appropriately enough, since Hailstork has served as professor of music and composer-in-residence at Virginia's Norfolk State and Old Dominion universities, and in 1992 was named a cultural laureate of Virginia. In addition to this Fanfare, Hailstork’s works range from choral and chamber pieces to symphonies and operas.

Music Played in Today's Program

Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) Fanfare on “Amazing Grace” Virginia Symphony; JoAnne Faletta, cond. Naxos 8559722

On This Day


  • 1914 - Polish composer and conductor Andrzej Panufnik, in Warsaw;

  • 1919 - Czech-born American composer Vaclav Nelhybel, in Polanska;

  • 1945 - English composer and conductor John Rutter, in London;


  • 1813 - Belgian-born French composer André Grétry, age 72, in Montmorency;

  • 1892 - Irish-born American bandmaster and composer Patrick Gilmore, age 62, in St. Louis;


  • 1909 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "The Golden Cockerel," posthumously, in Moscow (Gregorian date: Oct. 7);

  • 1962 - Barber: Piano Concerto, with soloist John Browning and the Boston Symphony conducted by Erich Leinsdorf; This performance was the second concert scheduled at the newly-opened "Philharmonic Hall" (now Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center in New York City;

  • 1965 - George Rochberg: "Black Sounds" for winds and percussion, on a "Lincoln Center" television broadcast (as a ballet by Anna Sokolov under the title "The Act");

  • 1992 - Tobias Picker: "Bang!" by the New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur onducting (A New York Philharmonic 150th Anniversary commission);

  • 1994 - Zwilich: "American" Concerto for trumpet and orchestra, at the inaugural concert of the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, by the San Diego Symphony, JoAnn Faletta conducting, with soloist Doc Severinson;


  • 1947 - German-born composer Hans Eisler is questioned about his former membership in the Communist Party by the House Committee on Un-American activities; Eisler had been a member of the Party in the 1920s, left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933, and had been working in Hollywood on film scores and as the musical assistant to Charlie Chaplin; He left the U.S. in 1948 and settled in East Germany - where he composed that country's national anthem.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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