Calls to ban England rugby fans from singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot because of its associations with slavery now have the backing of Los Angeles-based Prince Harry.
Harry, who is also the patron of the Rugby Football Union, is supporting rugby officials seeking to review its historical context and whether it is cultural misappropriation for it to be sung by rugby fans.
The song was written by Wallace Willis, a freed Oklahoma slave, after 1865 and has been long associated with black spiritual gospel music.
It was adopted by rugby fans in England in 1988 when England beat Ireland at Twickenham following an impressive come-from-behind win.
It has been sung at matches involving the national team ever since while artists including UB40, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ella Eyre have released their own rugby-inspired versions.
A spokesman for Harry told the Times: “The Duke is supportive of the comments that the RFU made this week regarding the review (of the song) and he will follow the lead of the RFU on the matter.’
An RFU spokesperson said: ‘The Swing Low, Sweet Chariot song has long been part of the culture of rugby and is sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or its sensitivities. We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions.’
Harry’s stance from his new home in Los Angles, California, has pitted him against the bulk of England rugby fans who have fiercely supported their right to sing it, with many pointing out the last regime seeking a ban was the Nazis in 1939, who added it to a list of undesired and harmful musical works.
It was again called into question just three years ago.
As Breitbart News reported, in 2017 calls we made to prohibit rugby fans from singing the anthem because it allegedly represents “cultural appropriation.”
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 U.S. slave songs betray a total lack of understanding of the historical context in which those songs were created by the American slave.”
Music history professor Arthur Jones was also upset with England rugby fans for singing the iconic song. He told the newspaper he is saddened that the meaning is lost when crowds use it to support the England rugby team. He 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.
Both academics hit out at the slavery lyrics being used to make money for the Rugby Football Union, sponsors and musicians. They claim many supporters are unaware of the song’s roots and that adds another reason for them to refrain.