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Susan Aglukark - “Amazing Grace” (1992 Aglukark Entertainment Inc.)

Cover Image for Susan Aglukark - “Amazing Grace” (1992 Aglukark Entertainment Inc.)

w John Newton; arr. Susan Aglukark; from Arctic Rose

Today it's Indigenous Peoples' Day in the United States, though admittedly not in Canada, from whence singer of Inuit descent Susan Aglukark hails (they celebrate theirs on June 21st). It's also Columbus Day but I don't know any songs about him. There's a great one about Magellan, but I digress...

Susan Aglukark (Order of Canada, b. 1967) grew up in a number of primarily Inuit settlements in Manitoba and worked as a government linguist before making her first records in the early nineties. After self-releasing Arctic Rose in 1992, she was signed by EMI the following year and had great success with her 1995 album This Child - the lead single "O Siem" topped Canada's Adult Contemporary and Country charts, making Aglukark the first Inuit performer to have a top ten hit.

She continues to record today, having released The Crossing last year, and is also known for the humanitarian work she has done with her Arctic Rose Foundation among Canada's indigenous youth populations.

The final track off Arctic Rose (re-released by EMI in 1994) is this wonderfully stark version of "Amazing Grace". The hymn's writer is given as "Traditional", but we know the original words to have been written by English slaver-turned-minister John Newton. Per the Psalter Hymnal Handbook (p. 627), "Amazing Grace" was written c. 1779 but not set to its familiar melody, an Appalachian folk song called "New Britain", until 1835, when it appeared in a collection called Southern Harmony by one William Walker (it's been set to other tunes, apparently, including "In the Pines" - you can hear a very cool field recording of an "In the Pines" setting of "Amazing Grace" here at the Library of Congress).

Of course Aglukark sings the song in Inuktitut, or Eastern Canadian Inuit, one of the many Inuit languages or dialects - you can read all about it on the Canadian Encyclopedia (and how neat is it that Canada has a national encyclopedia? Eat your heart out, NHS...). She is listed as the arranger, so it's not entirely clear who translated the lyrics...perhaps she did it all herself, or maybe she could have picked them up somewhere, having been born a minister's child...regardless, it's a beautiful adaptation and a beautiful performance.

Susan Aglukark has recorded a number of other inspirational songs among her Christmas material, which will appear here at a future date...until then, as always, have a socially relevant day out there, and never forget that in 1493 Columbus sailed the deep blue sea...

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