Everybody and his brother has covered this song, which was the Fisk Jubilee Singers' signature piece ... especially Pearly Brown, a blind street singer in Georgia, but also Sam Cooke, Red Foley and too many others to mention worldwide... I'm just going to link a few of the more interesting vocal interpretations, i.e. the ones I think (hope?) I can learn from.
xxx A 30-second clip beginning at 13:24 of today's Fisk Jubilee Singers in an annual remembrance shows some of that old choral technique. The rest of the video, by Nashville's TRC Media, is a good capsule history of the singers over time, with expensive quotes from director Paul Kwami.
Rev. Pearly Brown, a blind street singer of Macon, Ga., backing himself on guitar. Worth a listen! His technique is amazing. Rev. Brown, who died in _____, was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2010. "He was one of the country’s last great street singers," said Oby Brown of the Macon Telegraph.
Nice solo arrangement by the Ol' Moses Gospel Choir in Palais Impérial de Compiegne in France --
Classical arrangement in the style of an art song (by Harry Burliegh?) Baritone Franklin Willis
Sam Cooke covered it in 1957, just before he crossed over into R&B.
There are many other covers, including Red Foley and a duet by Mahalia Jackson and Nate King Cole. YouTube user Raymond Crooke, who backs himself with guitar at http://youtu.be/etDZkK3ZfhU, gives this background:
This gospel song was first heard sung by a black slave by the name of Wallace Willis. His owner, Mr. Britt Willis, was a prominent citizen of the Choctaw Nation and well-to-do slaveholder living near Doaksville.
It is not clear whether Wallace Willis actually composed the song but it was not known until Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard him singing this and other songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, who then popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe. Other songs collected and possibly composed by Willis are "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "I'm a-Rolling" and "The Angels Are Coming".