May 6, 2018

SWEET CHARIOT:

First recording of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (1909) (Public Domain Review)

We don't know for sure who created the popular African American spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", though we do know it came to popular attention by finding itself part of the repertoire of The Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s. One often cited source is Wallis Willis (known as "Uncle Wallace"), a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory in what is now Choctaw County, in Oklahoma. According to the Library of Congress, in the mid nineteenth century, "Uncle Wallace" was rented out to a local school for Native American boys where he is said "to have entertained the boys by singing spirituals he composed, including 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'." [...]

Whatever the truth to its beginnings, the lyrics are thought to be referencing the Bible story of Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot, and also possibly the "Underground Railroad", the freedom movement that helped black people escape from Southern slavery to the North and Canada.

Featured here is the first known recording of the song performed in December 1909 for Victor Studios by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet (pictured above), a male foursome carrying on the legacy of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers of the 1870s.




Posted by at May 6, 2018 6:27 PM

  

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