History of Hymns: 'Amazing Grace Shall Always be My Song of Praise'
By Dr. Catherine Stapleton Nance
“Amazing Grace Shall Always be My Song of Praise” (“He Looked Beyond My Fault”)
by Dottie Rambo
Songs of Zion, 31
Dottie Rambo’s music has touched many lives. Rambo (1934-2008) was born Joyce Reba Luttrell in Madisonville, Kentucky, during the height of the Great Depression. She grew up in poverty and developed an early affinity for country music. At twelve years old, she made a commitment to Christ and began to write and sing Christian music. Her decision to sing Christian music did not please her father, who told her she must make a choice between singing Christian music and living at home. She chose to leave home; from that point on, she traveled by bus from church to church, singing her music. She married Buck Rambo at age sixteen, and they formed a trio called “The Gospel Echoes” and began traveling throughout the midwestern and southern United States. Dottie and Buck had a daughter named Reba, who later sang in a group with her parents called “The Rambos.”
Rambo was a prolific composer with hundreds of songs attributed to her (Drudge, https://www.dottierambo.net/lyrics, n. p.). Among the many accolades received by The Rambos was the distinction of being among the first gospel ensembles to sing for American troops in Vietnam (1967). She won multiple Dove Awards and received a Grammy (1968) for her album “Dottie Rambo Sings Spirituals: It’s the Soul of Me.” She was awarded the Songwriter of the Century Award (1994) by the Christian Country Music Association as ASCAP presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award (2000). Following her death in a tragic bus accident on Mother’s Day weekend in 2008 while on tour, her funeral was attended by more than 4,000 people in Nashville, Tennessee. A choir of Christian songwriters and singers was led by Bill Gaither. President George W. Bush sent an American flag that had flown at the White House to Dottie’s funeral service.
One of her blockbuster songs was “He Looked Beyond My Fault (And Saw My Need)” (1967). Alluding to John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” in the incipit (first words), this song drew the attention of well-known recording artists such as Elvis Presley, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Whitney Houston, Pat Boone, and Sandi Patty (Drudge, n.p.). The tender pairing of the tune LONDONDARY AIR (famous for use with the text “O Danny Boy”) with her words shows Rambo’s ability to beautifully match lyrics and melody. One source (Hymnary.org, n.p.) refers to Matthew 14:14 as the basis for the lyrics: “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick” (KJV). While not referred to directly, this scriptural foundation for the text would be appropriate, since Christ’s compassion and grace extends to all humanity beyond any merit on our part. Furthermore, the song lyrics suggest not just the one scriptural account from the Matthean text, but the deep love of Jesus in giving his life for us on Calvary.
One possible use of this hymn during worship would be as a solo during imposition of ashes at the Ash Wednesday service. The prevailing mood is one of loving, gentle compassion, making the hymn a compelling contribution to any time in worship when planners wish to emphasize the loving, incarnate Jesus as a true companion and friend.
Previously, the hymn appeared mainly in gospel and African American collections. It should become much more widely used in all worship settings. Performances, rather than publications, reveal several crosscultural renditions. A recording by The Singing Rambos (1968) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWBpZ1foAW0) sets the stage for a variety of interpretations. See the following YouTube video of a Gaither-led presentation of the song with numerous gospel luminaries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLTD01k4ojQ.
African American performers Aretha Franklin and Andraé Crouch offer much different interpretations at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxM8cwdBIs0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfjEO3quF1c, respectively.
Barry Drudge, https://www.dottierambo.net/about. Accessed December 11, 2019.
Hymnary.org, https://hymnary.org/text/amazing_grace_shall_always_be_rambo. Accessed December 11, 2019.
Dr. Catherine Stapleton Nance is Director of Music Ministries at St. John’s United Methodist Church, Aiken, SC. A graduate of Converse College, Manhattan School of Music, and the Institute for Worship Studies, she is active in the South Carolina Chapter of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. She is also the Vice President of Content for the national Fellowship office.