Feb 25, 2011 - 'Senate passes bill to establish official state gospel

Senate passes bill to establish official state gospel

Tulsa World by: BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Friday, February 25, 2011
2/25/2011 5:59:56 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY - "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is on its way to becoming the state's official gospel song.

Senate Bill 73 by Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, passed the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 46-1 with no debate. The bill now heads to the House, where Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, is the sponsor.

"Swing Low" was written and composed by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman living in Indian Territory before 1862.

McIntyre said she is "really excited" about the prospects of the song gaining state designation and had expected more opposition.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Olney, cast the lone opposing vote. He said the state faces a number of issues of greater importance.

"We have to prioritize what we put on the (Senate) floor," he said.

McIntyre said she sang verses of the song to senators as she lobbied to secure its passage, although she said she has no talent for singing or dancing.

"I sing anyway, and I clear the room," she said.

McIntyre said the song has comforted millions at church and funeral services.

The song "is deeply woven into the fabric of our culture," she said.

"It's a song that we can all relate to. 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."

Currie Ballard, assistant secretary of the Senate, said he is a descendant of Willis.

"I think the angels in heaven are rejoicing," he said.

Very few Oklahomans know that the song came from Oklahoma, said Ballard, a former historian at Langston University.

"I think it is a treasure," he said. "I think it is a situation that being a historian, that you speak for those that can no longer speak."

Shumate said he doesn't anticipate any problems getting SB 73 through the House of Representatives.