"Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is an African-American spiritual, also referred to as a Negro folk song. As a folk song, it is thought to have been created by a community rather than an individual, in this case the community of African-American slaves prior to the Civil War. However, one song collector, John Wesley Work, in his book Folk Songs of the American Negro, reported a legend that it was composed by Hannah Shepherd of Tennessee in the mid-nineteenth century. Work recounted that she created it in a desperate moment to solace a distraught slave who had learned that she would be sold to another plantation and thus separated from her infant daughter.
Regardless of whether it originated from one composer or from a whole community, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was a popular song, sung throughout the South by slaves while they worked and during their occasional times of rest and prayer. The lyrics use biblical imagery and follow a slow, deep melody. They express the desire for a release from bondage and a return to home—geographically, the land of Africa, or spiritually, the peace of heaven. To this day, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" has remained popular, performed by gospel singers throughout the world, imbuing audiences with religious spirituality.