617. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Swing low, sweet chariot,
coming for to carry me home;
swing low, sweet chariot,
coming for to carry me home.

1 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. Refrain

2 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. Refrain

3 Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down
coming for to carry me home
but still I know I'm heavenward bound
coming for to carry me home. Refrain

Text Information
First Line: I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Title: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Publication Date: 1987
Meter: irregular
Topic: Biblical Names & Places: Jordan; Funerals; Return of Christ (5 more...)
Source: Afro-American spiritual
Language: English
Refrain First Line: Swing low, sweet chariot
Tune Information
Meter: irregular
Key: F Major
Source: Afro-American spiritual

Text Information:

This is one of the best-known African American spirituals in Christian history. Its source is the oral tradition of African Americans, but the concerts of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (PHH 476) and the Hampton Singers brought "Swing Low" to the attention of white audiences. J. B. T. Marsh includes an early version of text and tune in his The Story of the Jubilee Singers, with their Songs (1876 ed.).

Considered by Erik Routley (PHH 31) to be one of the "archetypal" African American spirituals, "Swing Low" welcomes death as the occasion "to carry me home" to glory. The text incorporates the imagery of “Jordan” and "chariot" from the Old Testament narratives of Elijah's ascent into heaven (2 Kings 2). In spite of the "ups" and "downs" of earthly life (st. 3), it is comforting for Christians to know with certainty that their final destination is the glory of a new heaven and earth.

Liturgical Use:
Advent; times of hardship; with preaching on 2 Kings 2 or on eschatological topics.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

A pentatonic melody, SWING LOW has the musical structure of "call and response" (solo and chorus) which is common in the rote practices associated with African American spirituals. Use a vocal soloist or a small group of voices for the marked unison segments and have the entire congregation sing the harmony parts. Although ideally this spiritual is sung unaccompanied, the continual changes from unison to harmony can also be emphasized with instruments. Some melodic and rhythmic liberties should be taken in singing the solo lines. Do not rush!

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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