Steal Away

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"Steal Away (Song)"
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873
Song by Fisk Jubilee Singers (earliest attested)
WrittenPrior to 1862
GenreNegro spiritual
Songwriter(s)Wallace Willis

"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]

Songs such as "Steal Away to Jesus", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Wade in the Water" and the "Gospel Train" are songs with hidden 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.[2][3]

"Steal Away" the song was composed by Wallace Willis, a slave of a 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" the song is a standard Gospel song, and is found in the hymnals of many Protestant denominations.

An arrangement of the song is included in the oratorio A Child of Our Time, first performed in 1944, by the classical composer Michael Tippett (1908–98). Many recordings of the song have been made including versions by Pat Boone[6] and Nat King Cole.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pike, The Jubilee Singers, p. 198.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2012-01-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "New Jersey's Underground Railroad Heritage website also claims "Steal Away" as a song related to escape from slavery" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  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 , 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."
  6. ^ "". Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  7. ^ "". Retrieved February 3, 2019.


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