“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a classic spiritual song from the African American tradition. It may have been composed by Minerva and Wallace Willis. Here are two arrangements of this song.

The first arrangement is by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. They published their arrangement in The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs (New York: Biglow & Main, 1872). Notice that their arrangement has the first note (“Swing…”) sung on the downbeat; this is different from a common contemporary interpretation of the song where the first note is a pickup measure. The original arrangement of the Fisk Jubilee singers had a fermata over the second note of the opening phrase (“…low…”), and again later where the word “low” is sung; I have omitted the fermata, both because it may confuse congregational singing, and to make this arrangement more consistent with the next arrangement.


Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Fisk Jubilee Singers (PDF, 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 in. for order of service inserts)

The next arrangement is derived from Harry T. Burleigh’s 1918 arrangement of this song for piano and low voice. Burleigh was arguably the first great African American composer of art music; he studied with Dvorak, and helped introduce Dvorak to American folk music. One of the verses and one of the choruses of Burleigh’s piano accompaniment can be easily and logically transcribed for SATB choir, as in the following arrangement.


Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Harry T. Burleigh (PDF, 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 in. for order of service inserts)

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