Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: Why people want iconic England rugby song banned | Rugby | Sport

England fans’ use of the anthem Swing Low, Sweet Chariot has once again come into question ahead of their Rugby World Cup campaign. The song’s link to slavery has split opinion over whether it should continue to be used, despite the Rugby Football Union concluding following a 2020 review that it is okay to sing. 

What is the history of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?

It is understood that the song dates back to 1865, when a slave called Wallace Willis may have been inspired by the Red River and of the Prophet Elijah’s tale of being taken to heaven by a chariot.

The earliest known recording of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was in 1909 by students from Fisk University – known as The Fisk Jubilee Singers. They made the song a well-known number with a tour across the US and Europe.

It then had a revival in the 1960s when folk artist and activist Joan Baez sang it during the iconic Woodstock festival of 1969.

Why do people want Swing Low, Sweet Chariot banned?

There are wide-ranging theories about what the song actually means, but many connect the song to slavery which is why the song’s use at rugby is deemed controversial. 

In 2017, the New York Times described the song as one of the “cherished 19th-century African-American spirituals, its forlorn lyrics invoking the darkness of slavery and the sustained oppression of a race”.

Josephine Wright, a professor of music and black studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio, said the lyrics of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot allude to feelings of “despair” and a “desire for release from suffering”. In the 1800s, it was often used as a funeral song.

England rugby star Maro Itoje refuses to sing the anthem. “I’m not going to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do but, personally, I won’t sing this song again,” he told L’Equipe in 2020.

“I sang it before when I was naive and didn’t know its origins but, now knowing the context in the creation of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, it’s not an anthem that I’m going to repeat any more.”

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot lyrics: 

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home (x2)

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

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot

Coming for to carry me home

If you get there before I do

Coming for to carry me…


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