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Amazing Grace

A concert film, starring Aretha Franklin, 46 years in the making!

It once was lost, but now is found. For 46 years, there seemed precious little hope that Amazing Grace, the documentary filmed during the live recording sessions of Aretha Franklin’s soaring 1972 gospel album of the same name, would ever see the light of day.

Poster for the Aretha Franklin concert film Amazing GraceThe album was recorded over two nights at the New Temple Baptist Missionary Church, where Franklin performed gospel classics before a visibly enraptured congregation. Presided over by the gospel legend and pastor James Cleveland, the event was a concert, a recording session, a church service and a revival  – not of the Queen of Soul’s career, which was doing just fine, but of the gospel roots that some critics claimed she had abandoned for pop/R&B success. Franklin had the final word: Amazing Grace became not only her best-selling disc but also her greatest achievement, a thrillingly sustained performance by an artist at the heavenly peak of her powers.

The lift-you-to-the-rafters intensity of Franklin’s voice remains so pure and galvanic that Amazing Grace is one of the few movies you could watch with your eyes closed, though you would hardly want to. You’d miss the sight of Aretha Franklin herself, a vision in her shimmering caftans, radiating an otherworldly calm even as she booms out almighty improvisations and runs through vocal glissandos. The energy of her performance is electrifying.

Franklin isn’t merely in her element here; she’s among friends and family, performing alongside brothers and sisters who seem to be entirely on the same spiritual wavelength. Amazing Grace is an ode to the bedrock sanctity of the black church and the expressive beauty of its worship. You see it in the waves of ecstasy that roll through the congregation as people leap to their feet and dance, and you see it when Reverend Cleveland himself bursts into tears, completely overcome by Franklin’s performance of ‘Amazing Grace’.  How sweet the sound indeed.

– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

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