The Days-Massolo Center, with Monk Rowe, “Doc” Woods, and The College Hill Singers, presented a variety of interpretations of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” as part of a celebration of our collective journeys on Saturday, Nov. 11. The song, as explained in the program, “demonstrates how a journey never loses its value and offers a life-long connection that makes it possible for us to be here.” 

The festivities began with a performance by Jace Saplan, Assistant Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities and Vocal Studies, featuring The College Hill Singers. The group sang a choral rendition of the song arranged by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, who, in 1909, made the first ever recording of the song. The group popularized the arrangement of the tune we are familiar with today.

Next, a video by Professor Michael “Doc” Woods, Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of Music, showcased another arrangement of the classic song. This rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was played at a slightly faster pace, reminiscent of popular versions from the 50s and 60s. The video was set to movie stills.

Sam Pellman, James L. Ferguson, Professor of Music, who died  on Nov. 9, was scheduled to perform next. During this time, Phyllis A.H Breland, Director of Opportunity Programs,  honored Professor Pellman with a short tribute. She had collaborated originally with him in scheduling the entire event and  requested a moment of silence from the audience in his memory. Professor Pellman would have performed a techno version of the piece.

Performing an arrangement of several previously composed songs, Monk Rowe, Joe Williams Director of the Jazz Archive and Lecturer in Music Performance, offered a jazz rendition of the piece that featured Sean Devoune Smith ’15 and the Hamilton College Saxophone Ensemble.

Finally, Phyllis A. H Breland, with special guest pianist Terrence Thorton, and the members of the Student Diversity Council. Sustah Girls, Brothers Organization, and the Hamilton Community, performed the Chaka Khan version of the song. This spirit filled rendition was the inspiration for the evening’s program.

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a composition which allows for many interpretations, as exemplified by the night’s diverse range of performances. The evening also demonstrated that, as a community, we may come from different places, yet we all have the responsibility and privilege to make space for one another. And when that happens, the result is harmonious.


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