Oklahoma Might Get Official Gospel Song - KTUL.com - Tulsa, Oklahoma - News, Weather & Sports

Oklahoma Might Get Official Gospel Song

Posted: Updated:

The Oklahoma Senate has supported legislation to make "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" Oklahoma's official gospel song.  Sen. Eason McIntyre is the author of Senate Bill 73 recognizing the song written and composed by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862.   "What a treasure Wallis Willis has been for not only our state, but the world. 

This beautiful song has comforted millions as a favorite at church and funeral services.  It's also been used in films, on TV, and has been redone by many famous artists over the years," said Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa.  "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is a song that is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture.  It's a song that we can all relate to; and I am so proud and humbled to be a part of ensuring that this beautiful spiritual not only stays in our hearts forever, but in our state's history."

Willis received his name from his owner, Britt Willis, probably in Mississippi, the ancestral home of the Choctaws.  Britt Willis was a prominent citizen of the Choctaw Nation who moved to Indian Territory prior to the Civil War and had a large plantation near Doaksville in what is now Choctaw County.  Willis lived his life out in Choctaw and Atoka Counties.  It is believed that he died in Atoka County, as that is where his unmarked grave is located.

Prior to the Civil War, Willis and his wife, Minerva, were sent by their owner to work at the Spencer Academy, a Choctaw boarding school located about ten miles northwest of Fort Towson just west of the current town of Spencerville, where the superintendent, Reverend Alexander Reid, heard them singing.  In 1871, Reid was at a performance of the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and thought the Willis' songs were better than those of the Jubilee Singers. He transcribed the songs and passed them along to the group which introduced them to the world, performing them around the United States and Europe.

            Willis supposedly received inspiration for "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" from the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah being taken to heaven by a chariot.  At that time, the Red River divided Indian Territory from Texas, which belonged to Mexico.

In the last century, the spiritual has continued to grow in popularity.  The tune has been recorded by such greats as Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Gene Autry, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton.  The spiritual has also been a theme song for English Rugby players and fans for several decades.
            Willis had many other famous spirituals including Steal Away to Jesus, The Angels are Coming, I'm a Rolling, and Roll Jordan Roll among others.
            Assistant Secretary of the Oklahoma State Senate Currie Ballard is a descendent of Wallis and Minerva Willis.  Ballard's ancestors were Choctaw Freedmen in Oklahoma.  His grandmother, aunt and mother all grew up in the state.  His was the first generation of their family that grew up outside of Oklahoma.  Ballard said he was touched by the support from the Senate and others around the state to make the beautiful spiritual the state's official gospel song.

            "As a historian, I've found that so many Oklahomans and others around the world and country have sang this spiritual all their lives and never realized it came from Oklahoma so my heart rejoices that this will bring positive light to our state and wonderful citizens like Wallis," said Ballard.  "Personally, my family is so touched and thrilled that Wallis' song will forever be a permanent part of Oklahoma history.  Unfortunately, all of my older family has passed away and won't get to witness this.  I do have a cousin that grew up with my mother in Muskogee that will be floating on a cloud, and I know there are angels that will celebrating in heaven when this becomes official."

You can find audio available at www.oksenate.gov under "Media".

  • NewsMore>>

  • Several Churches Have A/C Units Stolen

    Several Churches Have A/C Units Stolen

    Normally a hot bed of activity, the pews at First Baptist of North Tulsa just sat hot and empty on Wednesday."We've canceled services for the week due to the uncomfortable nature of the temperature," said Pastor Anthony Scott, his church hit Sunday night by copper thieves."They pulled this up and actually went, crawled underneath," he demonstrated.Several of their A/C units left in pieces, and First Baptist wasn't the only victim."We just replaced this one today," said Pastor Thomas Clardy of...More >>
    Normally a hot bed of activity, the pews at First Baptist of North Tulsa just sat hot and empty on Wednesday."We've canceled services for the week due to the uncomfortable nature of the temperature," said Pastor Anthony Scott, his church hit Sunday night by copper thieves."They pulled this up and actually went, crawled underneath," he demonstrated.Several of their A/C units left in pieces, and First Baptist wasn't the only victim."We just replaced this one today," said Pastor Thomas Clardy of...More >>
  • Army Worm Invasion Devastating Tulsa Lawns

    Army Worm Invasion Devastating Tulsa Lawns

    Oklahoma's mild summer could cost homeowners thousands of dollars.Army worms are destroying lawns.The rain and lush growing conditions make the situation perfect for an invasion.The last major outbreak happened 14 years ago.The worm is the larva of a small gray moth that migrates from Mexico and Texas.They lay thousands of eggs in your grass.When the worms hatch and then grow, they can devastate your yard quickly.Brad Johnson with Lawn America says, "The problem is they can go from about this...More >>
    Oklahoma's mild summer could cost homeowners thousands of dollars.Army worms are destroying lawns.The rain and lush growing conditions make the situation perfect for an invasion.The last major outbreak happened 14 years ago.The worm is the larva of a small gray moth that migrates from Mexico and Texas.They lay thousands of eggs in your grass.When the worms hatch and then grow, they can devastate your yard quickly.Brad Johnson with Lawn America says, "The problem is they can go from about this...More >>
  • Insurance Agents Required To Get Earthquake Education

    Insurance Agents Required To Get Earthquake Education

    The number of earthquakes here in the Sooner State is skyrocketing.So, the Governor wants to make sure, homeowners are getting all of the information needed about quake insurance.Mary Fallin and Insurance Commissioner John Doak are teaming up to make sure providers are more educated about the subject.Starting January 1, 2015, agents will be required to get one hour of additional education about earthquake coverage.Fallin says, "It's important as the market expands in Oklahoma that residents g...More >>
    The number of earthquakes here in the Sooner State is skyrocketing.So, the Governor wants to make sure, homeowners are getting all of the information needed about quake insurance.Mary Fallin and Insurance Commissioner John Doak are teaming up to make sure providers are more educated about the subject.Starting January 1, 2015, agents will be required to get one hour of additional education about earthquake coverage.Fallin says, "It's important as the market expands in Oklahoma that residents g...More >>
Powered by WorldNow

P.O. Box 8 Tulsa, OK 74101-0008

Powered by WorldNow

All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Worldnow and KTUL. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.