England rugby anthem Swing Low, Sweet Chariot slammed by academics for ignoring slave history

Francesca Gillett
English rugby union team fans cheer during the rugby union World Cup in 2007: AFP/Getty Images

England’s iconic rugby anthem Swing Low, Sweet Chariot has been slammed by US academics for “cultural appropriation” of a traditional slavery song.

The uplifting rugby tune is traditionally an African American spiritual song created by slaves but was adopted by the national team to be sung before games.

But researchers in music and black studies from the US said using a slavery song for a celebratory chant is ignorant of its horrific history.

They claim the song's lyrics are about despair and the desire to escape from sufering - but its use today as a drinking song among jovial fans is "unfortunate".

Josephine Wright, a professor of music and black studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio, told the New York Times: “Such cross-cultural appropriations of US slave songs betray a total lack of understanding of the historical context in which those songs were created by the American slave.”

The academics hit out at the slavery lyrics being used to make money for the Rugby Union, sponsors and UB40 with many supporters being unaware of the song’s roots, the Telegraph reported.

UB40, who had a hit with Swing Low, Sweet Chariot performing in Twickenham. (David Rogers/Getty Images)

Music history professor Arthur Jones at the University of Denver said: “I feel kind of sad.

“I feel like the story of American chattel slavery and this incredible cultural tradition, built up within a community of people who were victims and often seen as incapable of standing up for themselves, is such a powerful story that I want the whole world to know about it.

“But apparently not everyone does.”

Last month Labour MP for Rhondda in Wales, Chris Bryant, backed calls for fans to stop singing Tom Jones’ song Delilah at Welsh rugby matches.

He claimed the song, which tells the story of a prostitute being murdered, glorifies domestic violence.

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