Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

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"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873.
Song by Fisk Jubilee Singers
(Earliest attested)
Written Prior to 1862
Form African-American spiritual
Writer Wallace Willis
Performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers

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"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is a historic American Spiritual song. The earliest known recording was in 1909, by the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University. It is also the anthem of the England national rugby union team.

In 2002, the Library of Congress honored the song as one of 50 recordings chosen that year to be added to the National Recording Registry. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.


"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was written by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory in what is now Choctaw County, near the County seat of Hugo, Oklahoma sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11). Some sources[1][2] claim that this song and "Steal Away"[3] (also composed by Willis) had lyrics that referred to the Underground Railroad, the freedom movement that helped blacks escape from Southern Slavery to the North and Canada.

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

The song enjoyed a resurgence during the 1960s Civil Rights struggle and the folk revival; it was performed by a number of artists. Perhaps the most famous performance during this period was that by Joan Baez during the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival.

Oklahoma State Senator, Judy Eason McIntyre from Tulsa, Oklahoma proposed a bill nominating "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as the Oklahoma State official gospel song in 2011. The bill was co-sponsored by the Oklahoma State Black Congressional Caucus. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the bill into law on May 5, 2011, at a ceremony at the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame; making the song the official Oklahoma State Gospel Song.[citation needed]

Traditional lyrics[edit]


Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.


Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)


The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)


If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming there too.
(Coming for to carry me home)


Notable cover versions[edit]

An early recording was by the Apollo Jubilee Quartette on Monday, February 26, 1912, Columbia Records (A1169), New York.[4][5]

Use in rugby union[edit]

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" has been sung by rugby players and fans for some decades,[6] and there are associated gestures, sometimes used in a drinking game, which requires those who wrongly perform the gestures to buy a round of drinks.[7][8] It became associated with the English national side, in particular, in 1988. Coming into the last match of the 1988 season, against Ireland at Twickenham, England had lost 15 of their previous 23 matches in the Five Nations Championship. The Twickenham crowd had only seen one solitary England try in the previous two years and at half time against Ireland they were 0–3 down. However during the second half England scored six tries to give them a 35–3 win. Three of the tries came in quick succession from Chris Oti making his Twickenham debut. A group of boys from the Benedictine school Douai following a tradition at their school games sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" whenever a try was scored. When Oti scored his second try, amused spectators standing close to the boys joined in, and when Oti scored his hat-trick the song was heard around the ground.[6][9][10] The song is still regularly sung at matches by English supporters.[11]

The England national rugby union team returned from the 2003 World Cup triumph in Australia on a plane dubbed "Sweet Chariot".[12]

Recordings associated with England's participation at the Rugby World Cup[edit]

"Swing Low"
Single by UB40 featuring United Colours of Sound
B-side Swing Low (Stadium mix)
Released 2003
Genre Reggae
Label DEP International DEPDJ58
Writer(s) Charlie Skarbek, Traditional
Producer(s) Charlie Skarbek

The song became the England Rugby World Cup theme for 1991, when performed by "Union featuring the England World Cup Squad". It reached no. 16 on the UK singles chart.

The song was then covered in 1995 for that year's tournament by British pop/reggae duo China Black together with South African male choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It reached no. 15 on the chart, selling 200,000 copies.[citation needed]

1999's tournament saw Russell Watson record a version which had less success, only peaking at no. 38 on the UK chart.[citation needed]

The song enjoyed more success in 2003's tournament, when recorded by UB40 and the United Colours of Sound. It originally peaked at no. 23, but following England's victory in the tournament returned to reach no. 15.[13][14]

A new version was recorded by Blake for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

For 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand popular all-girl group Our Lady Muse (O.L.M) released an England Rugby World Cup Song. An upbeat party anthem version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – The Song was premiered at the "Polo Rocks" concert in aid of The Prince's Trust.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walls, Bryan. "UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TERMINOLOGY". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Eversley, Melanie (12 August 2006). "Story behind spiritual 'Sweet Chariot' emerges". USA Today. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "A Guide to The Underground Railroad in New Jersey". Njstatelib. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Dixon, Robert M. W. Blues and Gospel Records: 1890–1943 (Blues and Gospel Records), Oxford University Press (1997), page 23 – ISBN 0-19-816239-1
  5. ^ Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890–1919, University of Illinois Press (2004), page 258 – ISBN 0-252-02850-3
  6. ^ a b "The story behind "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and how it became a rugby anthem.". everyhit.com. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  7. ^ Hash House Harriers, Hash Songs,Ankara Hash House Harriers Retrieved 2009-02-07
  8. ^ Hugh Farrelly. Oti the man to blame as 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' continues to roll, Irish Independent 13 March 2008
  9. ^ "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". rfu.com. Archived from the original on 25 October 2007. Retrieved August 2007. 
  10. ^ Oliver Price Blood, mud and aftershave in The Observer Sunday February 5, 2006, Section O is for Oti
  11. ^ Holden, Jim (16 March 2014). "Italy 11 - England 52: Stuart Lancaster's men end with a flourish". Sunday Express. 
  12. ^ England rugby heroes head home BBC, 24 November 2003
  13. ^ "UK Charts - UB40". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved 2013-06-14. 
  14. ^ "Swing Low". www.discogs.com. Retrieved 2013-06-14. 

External links[edit]