Oklahoma House in unison for official state gospel song

OKLAHOMA CITY Tue Apr 26, 2011 8:39pm EDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The Oklahoma House on Monday voted to name "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" as the state's official gospel song.

If the measure becomes law, the song would join five others that have official status in the state, including the title song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Oklahoma!"

The measure, which was already approved by the Senate, passed the House by a vote of 89-0 and now heads to Governor Mary Fallin.

State legislatures across the country are pondering not only their state budgets but also what should be their official state foods -- or guns.

In Arizona, for example, legislators seeking to make the Colt revolver that state's official firearm won a close vote -- over protests by a Navajo lawmaker who questioned the wisdom of glorifying a weapon used to kill his ancestors. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has not yet acted on the bill.

Designating an official state gospel song is evidently far less controversial.

Still, when state Representative Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, the Oklahoma bill's House sponsor, was asked by a colleague to give a rendering of the song on the House floor on Monday, he declined, saying his pastor told him to always sing solo -- "so low nobody can hear."

Even without a performance, no one voted against the song.

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was written in 1862, when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory, by a Choctaw Freedman named Wallis Wallis. It's said the Red River made Wallis think of the Jordan River, and the song was loosely based on a Bible passage that describes the Prophet Elijah being taken to heaven in a chariot.

"It should be a source of pride to all Oklahomans that this meaningful song was written in our state," Shumate said.

"Granting this song official recognition will help publicize the diversity of Oklahoma and the contributions of African-Americans to our state."

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

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