“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is an American Negro spiritual song. The first known recording was in 1909, by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Some country artists also recorded the song. One of them was Johnny Cash. When I had a chance to listen to the song, I liked it and was curious to know its history. Somehow, I consider it as a religious song. It is about deliverance from this world to a better world coming from people who experienced dreadful oppression. It would be strange if you know the history of the song that it would wind up being sung in a lot of contexts.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, the History
According to some sources, a Choctaw freedman, Wallis Willis, wrote “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in the old Indian Territory, near the County seat of Hugo, Oklahoma sometime after 1865. The Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah, inspired him to pen the hymn. Elijah was brought to heaven by a chariot. In addition, other sources say that this song had contents that denoted the freedom crusade Underground Railroad. A movement that helped black people escape from Southern slavery to the North and Canada.
The song was reborn during the 1960s Civil Rights struggle. In 2011, Oklahoma State Senator Judy Eason McIntyre suggested a bill proposing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as the Oklahoma State official gospel song. Governor Mary Fallin signed the bill into law on May 5, 2011, at a ceremony at the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame, making “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as the official Oklahoma State Gospel Song.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was probably first sung by black American slaves, which gives the picture of the chariot, “coming for to carry me home” a rather horrible way. It is a petition for escape from the miserable human existence, a plea to be “home”, to heaven. In essence, a plea for death.
Nearly every person who can sing, at some point in his or her life has performed the song. The Grateful Dead performed it eleven times. Moreover, the recent years are a collection of harsh voices, questions, and controversies. Many people questioned how suitable it is to be a party tune for England rugby supporters. It should be a respected song about death and the afterlife. When it comes down to it, songs about throwing off the restraints of sadness may not exactly be within emotional reach.
We are bringing you Johnny Cash and his soothing version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.
“I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry he home
A band of angels coming after me
Coming for to carry me home.”
Hymns by Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Sweet Chariot, Swing Low