The Southern Four – “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

This sublime acapella performance of the American Negro Spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was recorded by a group called The Southern Four, in December of 1921. The song was composed around 1860 by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in southern Oklahoma. Willis was inspired by The Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and the Prophet Elijah ascending to heaven in a chariot. The lyrics symbolically referred to the Underground Railroad, and the resistance movement against slavery in the United States. Later adopted by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the song eventually became the Oklahoma State official gospel song. When Joan Baez sang her version at Woodstock, it became an anthem for the hippie generation as well. This vintage recording was released on Edison Disc in 1924.

Blind Willie Johnson – “If I Had My Way I’d Tear The Building Down”

Blind Willie Johnson’s style blurred the lines between folk/blues and spiritual/gospel musics. His unique vocal growl appears on “If I Had My Way I’d Tear The Building Down”, “Praise God I’m Satisfied”, and 28 other songs he recorded for Columbia records in the late 1920’s. Here’s a nice clean mp3, ripped from the original 78 RPM vinyl.