Steal Away

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For the song by Robbie Dupree, see Steal Away (Robbie Dupree song). For the musical track by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, see The Plateaux of Mirror. For the song by Tommy Tutone, see Tommy Tutone 2.
"Steal Away"
"Steal Away (To Jesus)"
StealAway1873.jpg
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873.
Written by Wallace Willis
Written Prior to 1862
Language English
Form Negro spiritual
Original artist Fisk Jubilee Singers
(Earliest attested)

"Steal Away" ("Steal Away to Jesus") is an American Negro spiritual. The song is well known by variations of the chorus:

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home, I hain't got long to stay here.[1]

Many [2] [3] say that songs such as "Steal Away to Jesus", and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Wade in the Water" and the "Gospel Train" are secret codes, not only about having faith in God, but containing hidden messages for slaves to run away on their own, or with the Underground Railroad.[citation needed]

"Steal Away" was composed by Wallace Willis, Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862.[4]

Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard Willis singing the songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.[5] The Jubilee Singers then popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe.

"Steal Away" is a standard Gospel song, and is found in the hymnals of many Protestant denominations. It has been recorded many times by many artists.

An arrangement of this song is part of Michael Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pike, The Jubilee Singers, p. 198.
  2. ^ Code signal explanation claimed by Owen Sound's Black History website.
  3. ^ New Jersey's Underground Railroad Heritage website also claims "Steal Away" as a song related to escape from slavery.
  4. ^ Banks, "Narrative", p. 28: "My grandfather, Uncle Wallace, was a slave of the Wright fam'ly when dey lived near Doaksville, and he and my grandmother would pass de time by singing while dey toiled away in de cotton fields. Grandfather was a sweet singer. He made up songs and sung 'em. He made up 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' and 'Steal Away to Jesus.' He made up lots more'n dem, but a Mr. Reid, a white man, liked dem ones de best and he could play music and he helped grandfather to keep dese two songs. I loves to hear 'em."
  5. ^ Flickinger, The Choctaw Freedmen and etc.: "In 1871, when the Jubilee singers first visited Newark, New Jersey, Rev. Alexander Reid happened to be there and heard them. The work of the Jubilee singers was new in the North and attracted considerable and very favorable attention. But when Prof. White, who had charge of them, announced several concerts to be given in different churches of the city he added, "We will have to repeat the Jubilee songs as we have no other." When Mr. Reid was asked how he liked them he remarked, "Very well, but I have heard better ones." When he had committed to writing a half dozen of the plantation songs he had heard "Wallace and Minerva" sing with so much delight at old Spencer Academy, he met Mr. White and his company in Brooklyn, New York, and spent an entire day rehearsing them. These new songs included, "Steal Away to Jesus," "The Angels are Coming," "I'm a Rolling," and "Swing Low."

Bibliography[edit]

  • Banks, Frances. "Narrative" from The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives edited by T. Lindsay Baker and Julie P. Baker (United States Work Projects Administration). University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8061-2792-9
  • Flickinger, Robert Elliott. The Choctaw Freedmen and the Story of Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Valliant, McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Pittsburgh: Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, 1914. University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8032-4787-7
  • Pike, G.D. The Jubilee Singers and Their Campaign for Twenty Thousand Dollars, Lee And Shepard, Publishers, 1873.
  • http://www.wqln.org/safeharbor/Film/InterviewTranscripts/Dobard/HiddenMeanings.htm "

Raymond Dobard, Ph.D., professor of art and art history on hidden meanings in spirituals"