Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
"Swing Low Sweet Chariot"
Page from The Jubilee Singers (1873)
WrittenPrior to 1862
GenreNegro spiritual
Wallace Willis

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is an American Negro spiritual. The earliest known recording was in 1909, by the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University.

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 after 1865. He may have been inspired by the sight of the Red River, by which he was toiling, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11).[1][2] Some sources[3][4] claim that this song and "Steal Away"[5] (also sung by Willis) had lyrics that referred to the Underground Railroad, the freedom movement that helped black people escape from Southern slavery to the North and Canada.

Alexander Reid, a minister at the Old Spencer Academy, a 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.[2]

In 1939, Nazi Germany's Reich Music Examination Office added the song to a listing of "undesired and harmful" musical works.[6]

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 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.[7]

Traditional lyrics


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)


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

Chorus (3×)

Film and television appearances

The song has frequently been used in films and television.


A popular early recording[26] was by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet for Victor Records (No. 16453) on December 1, 1909[27] and two years later the Apollo Jubilee Quartette recorded the song on Monday, February 26, 1912, Columbia Records (A1169), New York City.[28][29]

Since then, numerous versions have been recorded including those by Bing Crosby (recorded April 25, 1938),[30]Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen (included in the album The Kenny Ball Show - 1962), Louis Armstrong (for his album Louis and the Good Book - 1958), Sam Cooke (for his album Swing Low - 1961), Vince Hill (1993),[31]Peggy Lee (1946),[32] and Paul Robeson (recorded January 7, 1926 for Victor - (No. 20068).[33]

Biviano Accordion Sextette

External audio
You may listen to the Joe Biviano Accordion Rhythm Sextette with John Serry Sr. and Tony Mottola performing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in 1947 here

The noted jazz accordionist/composer John Serry Sr. recorded the composition with the jazz guitarist Tony Mottola as members of the Biviano Accordion & Rhythm Sextette in 1947 for Sonora Records on the album Accordion Capers (Sonora # MS 476).[34][35]

Eric Clapton

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
Eric Clapton Swing Low Sweet Chariot.jpg
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album There's One in Every Crowd
"Pretty Blue Eyes"
ReleasedMay 1975 (1975-05)
Format7" vinyl
GenreBlues rock · reggae
Wallace Willis
Tom Dowd
Eric Clapton singles chronology
"Willie and the Hand Jive"
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

British rock musician Eric Clapton recorded a reggae version of the song for his 1975 studio album There's One in Every Crowd. RSO Records released it with the B-side "Pretty Blue Eyes" as a seven-inch grammophone single in May the same year, produced by Tom Dowd.[36] His version reached various singles charts, including Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Weekly chart performance

Chart (1975) Peak
Japan (Oricon)[37] 89
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[38] 21
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[39] 26
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[40] 15
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[41] 19

Use in rugby union

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" has been sung by rugby players and fans for some decades,[42] 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.[43][44] 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 black player 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.[42][45][46] The song is still regularly sung at matches by English supporters.[47]

The England national rugby union team returned from the 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph in Australia on a plane dubbed "Sweet Chariot".[48]

England's participation at the Rugby World Cup

"Swing Low"
Single by UB40 featuring United Colours of Sound
from the album Homegrown
"Swing Low" (Stadium mix)
Released27 October 2003
LabelDEP International DEPDJ58
  • Charlie Skarbek
  • Traditional
Charlie Skarbek
UB40 featuring United Colours of Sound singles chronology
"Cover Up"
"Swing Low"
"Kiss and Say Goodbye"

The song became the England Rugby World Cup theme for 1991, when performed by "Union featuring the England World Cup Squad". It reached number 16 on the UK singles chart.

The song was then covered in 1995 for that year's tournament by British reggae duo China Black together with South African male choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It reached number 15 on the chart, selling 200,000 copies.[]

1999's tournament featured Russell Watson record a version which had less success, only peaking at number 38 on the UK chart.[]

The song enjoyed more success in 2003's tournament, but included the album Homegrown, when recorded by UB40 and the United Colours of Sound. It originally peaked at number 23, but following England's victory in the tournament returned to reach number 15.[49][50] In the wake of the tournament, UB40 performed the song at a concert at the NEC Arena Birmingham that was attended by England rugby fans and captain Martin Johnson.[51]

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

For 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand 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.

Ella Eyre version

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
Ella Eyre Swing Low Sweet Chariot.jpg
Single by Ella Eyre
Released7 September 2015
FormatDigital download
LabelVirgin EMI Records
Wallace Willis
  • Glyn Aikins
  • Mojam
Ella Eyre singles chronology
"Good Times"
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
"Best of My Love"

English singer Ella Eyre released a cover version of the song on 7 September 2015 as a digital download in association with England Rugby, to coincide with the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with the song raising money for England Rugby's All Schools programme. The song was produced by Glyn Aikins and Mojam, it peaked to number 134 on the UK Singles Chart and number 87 on the Scottish Singles Chart.

A music video to accompany the release of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was first released onto YouTube on 10 September 2015 at a total length of three minutes and ten seconds.

Track listing

Digital download[52]
1."Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"3:14

Chart performance

Chart (2015) Peak
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[53] 87
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[54] 134

Release history

Region Date Format Label
United Kingdom 7 September 2015[52] Digital download Virgin EMI Records

See also


  1. ^ "USATODAY.com". usatoday30.usatoday.com. Retrieved .
  2. ^ a b "Michael Overall, How an Oklahoma slave came to write one of the world's most famous songs". Tulsa World, January 28, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ Walls, Bryan. "UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TERMINOLOGY". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2013.
  4. ^ Eversley, Melanie (12 August 2006). "Story behind spiritual 'Sweet Chariot' emerges". USA Today. Retrieved 2013.
  5. ^ "A Guide to The Underground Railroad in New Jersey" (PDF). Njstatelib. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 August 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  6. ^ "Banned Music in the Third Reich". Völkischer Beobachter, Full edition Nr. 94 of 4 April 1939. Retrieved 2019.
  7. ^ "Oklahoma House Approves 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' As State Gospel Song". www.newson6.com. Retrieved .
  8. ^ Croce, Fernando. "Dirigible (Frank Capra / U.S., 1931)". CinePassion. Retrieved 2017.
  9. ^ Simpson, Eugene Thamon (2008). Hall Johnson: His Life, His Spirit, and His Music. Scarecrow Press. p. 116. ISBN 0810860384.
  10. ^ Reid, John Howard (2005). Movie Westerns: Hollywood Films the Wild, Wild West. Lulu.com. p. 88. ISBN 1411666100.
  11. ^ Lupack, Barbara Tepa (1999). Nineteenth-Century Women at the Movies: Adapting Classic Women's Fiction to Film. Popular Press. p. 245. ISBN 0879728051.
  12. ^ Koestenbaum, Wayne (2012). The Anatomy of Harpo Marx. University of California Press. p. 117. ISBN 0520269012.
  13. ^ Dunne, Michael (2004). American Film Musical Themes and Forms. McFarland Publishing. pp. 45-46. ISBN 078641877X.
  14. ^ Cornelius, David. "A Date With Judy". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2018.
  15. ^ Goldsmith, Melissa; Wilson, Paige; Fonseca, Anthony (2016). The Encyclopedia of Musicians and Bands on Film. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 353-354. ISBN 1442269863.
  16. ^ Stanfield, Peter (2018). Hoodlum Movies: Seriality And The Outlaw Biker Film Cycle, 1966-1972. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813599021.
  17. ^ Devine, Jeremy (1995). Vietnam at 24 Frames a Second: A Critical and Thematic Analysis of 360 Films About the Vietnam War. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 9781476605357.
  18. ^ Scribner, John. "Worst Disney 52: The Shaggy D.A." Cinema 52. Retrieved 2017.
  19. ^ Knapp, Laurence (1996). Directed by Clint Eastwood: Eighteen Films Analyzed. McFarland & Co. p. 113. ISBN 0786402717.
  20. ^ "Quotes Description". Movie Quotes. Retrieved 2019.
  21. ^ "The "Addams Family Values" Cast Reveals Behind-The-Scenes Secrets 20 Years Later". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2017.
  22. ^ Long, Michael (2015). Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 97. ISBN 9780664260477.
  23. ^ "The Birth of a Nation: how Nate Parker failed to remake history". The Guardian. October 10, 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  24. ^ Johnson, Kevin (February 15, 2016). "The Amazing World of Gumball succeeds with a simple, silly origin story". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2020.
  25. ^ Rowan, Kate (November 5, 2019). "Rugby must make the most of popularity surge following Japan - Joe Marler should be the new face of the sport on TV". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2020.
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 159. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  27. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". 78discography.com. Retrieved 2017.
  28. ^ 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
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved 2017.
  31. ^ "Discogs.com". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2017.
  32. ^ "The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography And Videography". peggyleediscography.com. Retrieved 2017.
  33. ^ "The Online Discographical Project". 78discography.com. Retrieved 2017.
  34. ^ Accordion Capers on archive.org
  35. ^ Swing Low Sweet Chariot performed by the Joe Biviano Accordion and Rhythm Sextette including John Serry Sr. (accodordion), Angelo Delleria (accordion), and Tony Mattola (guitar) in 1947 on archive.org
  36. ^ "Eric Clapton - Swing Low Sweet Chariot - hitparade.ch". Schweizer Hitparade (in German). Steffen Hung - Hung Medien. Retrieved 2015.
  37. ^ Tatsaku, Ren (2011). The Oricon Sales Report (in Japanese). Tokyo: Oricon Style - Recording Industry Association of Japan.
  38. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 - Eric Clapton" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  39. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl - Eric Clapton - Swing Low Sweet Chariot" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  40. ^ "Charts.nz - Eric Clapton - Swing Low Sweet Chariot". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  41. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  42. ^ a b "The story behind "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and how it became a rugby anthem". everyhit.com. Retrieved .
  43. ^ Hash House Harriers, Hash Songs, Ankara Hash House Harriers Retrieved 2009-02-07
  44. ^ Hugh Farrelly. Oti the man to blame as 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' continues to roll, Irish Independent 13 March 2008
  45. ^ "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". rfu.com. Archived from the original on 25 October 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  46. ^ Oliver Price Blood, mud and aftershave in The Observer Sunday February 5, 2006, Section O is for Oti
  47. ^ Holden, Jim (16 March 2014). "Italy 11 - England 52: Stuart Lancaster's men end with a flourish". Sunday Express.
  48. ^ England rugby heroes head home BBC, 24 November 2003
  49. ^ "UK Charts - UB40". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved .
  50. ^ "Swing Low". www.discogs.com. Retrieved .
  51. ^ UB40 - Swing Low Sweet Chariot (live at the NEC Arena Birmingham, 2003) YouTube
  52. ^ a b Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - Single by Ella Eyre on iTunes
  53. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  54. ^ CHART: CLUK Update 19.09.2015 (wk38). Official Charts Company. Zobbel.de/

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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