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Brené Brown on the Way Willie Nelson’s Version of “Amazing Grace” Changed Her Life

Hosted by John Spong on Texas Monthly Podcast


Dr. Brené Brown was at a low point in her life the first time she heard Willie Nelson’s cover of “Amazing Grace.” It was in the early 2000s, a period she has famously referred to as a “breakdown/spiritual awakening,” and she was walking through her Houston neighborhood listening to various versions of the song on her iPod.

When Willie’s rendition came on, which he’d originally recorded for his 1976 album The Sound in Your Mind, she suddenly heard the song differently. She replayed it over and over so the message could sink in. “It’s not hyperbole to say that, in a very weird way,” she says, “Willie’s version of ‘Amazing Grace’ was completely transformative for me.”

In this week’s episode of One by Willie, Brown describes her feelings that moment, the deeper understanding of the song that followed, and the way that understanding informed her own teaching on vulnerability, shame, and empathy. We also discuss the song’s history; her lifelong love of Willie; the concepts of faith, grace, and acceptance, more generally; and another, even more powerful, performance of “Amazing Grace.”

We’ve created an Apple Music playlist for this series that we’ll add to with each episode we publish. And if you like the show, please subscribe and drop us a rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

One by Willie is produced and engineered by Brian Standefer, with audio editing by Jackie Ibarra and production by Patrick Michels. Our executive producer is Megan Creydt. Graphic design is by Emily Kimbro and Victoria Millner.

(Read a transcript of this episode here.)


John Spong is a Texas Monthly senior editor who writes primarily about popular culture, and he hosts the magazine’s popular music-history podcast One by Willie. He has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards, most recently in 2021 as coeditor and lead writer on two large Willie Nelson projects: “Willie: Now, More than Ever,” a special issue that was a finalist for best single-topic issue; and “All 146 Willie Nelson Albums, Ranked,” which was nominated for best digital storytelling. He has twice won the Texas Institute of Letters’ O. Henry Award for magazine journalism—for “Holding Garmsir” (January 2009), about a month he spent with a U.S. Marine platoon fighting in Afghanistan, and for “The Good Book and the Bad Book” (September 2006), about a censorship battle at an elite private school in Austin. He is the author of A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, and his stories have been collected in The Best American Food Writing and The Best American Sports Writing, among others. He lives in Austin with his wife, Julie Blakeslee, and their two boys, Willie Mo and Leon.

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