"Swing Down Sweet Chariot:" From Elvis' First Gospel Album 1

Elvis Presley performing “Sweet Down Sweet Chariot” with real musicians/Photo: Screen grabbed from Youtube

Although Elvis Presley is known as the King of Rock and Roll, it’s no secret that he’s recorded several gospel songs during his lifetime. As a matter of fact, Presley recorded a total of three gospel music albums throughout his career. That’s in addition to the numerous rock and roll music hits and country ballads that he had released. Many of Presley’s gospel music recordings are cover versions of popular Christian hymns. During concerts, he did not only delight the audience with his rock and roll songs. He also touched their hearts with a soulful singing of gospel tunes. Among the notable hymns that Presley performed were Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “If We Never Meet Again,” and Peace in the Valley.

In 1960, Presley recorded his first-ever gospel music album called His Hands in Mine. The collection included twelve tracks, mostly African-American spiritual and Southern gospel songs. One of the singles on it was the spiritual traditional song “Swing Down Sweet Chariot.” Initially, the tune gained popularity in the 1940’s through the Golden Gate Quartet. Presley recorded another version of it for The Trouble with Girls, a film he participated in back in 1969.

Below is a scene from the film showing Elvis Presley performing “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” with a group of real musicians. Listen to their jovial rendition of the song.

Original Version

The Golden Gate Quartet began as a singing group in 1931. They were considered as the most successful of all the African-American gospel music singing groups.  Among their popular hits during the 1940’s was the song called “Swing Down Sweet Chariot.” The tune is a comical variant of  the early ’90’s spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Presley, a fan of the group’s music since childhood, honored the group by covering their song on his first gospel collection.

Basically, the song tells a story of a Biblical character who wanted to experience riding on a chariot wheel. Hence the title “Swing Down Sweet Chariot.” Watch a 1967 live performance of the song by the Golden Gate Quartet below.

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