Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"When That Great Ship Went Down"

I find it a bit odd that there aren’t more songs about the Titanic. The sinking of the great liner on the night of April 14, 1912 was one of the most tragic disasters of the turn of the century, and yet, except for a children’s nursery rhyme, few songwriters have honored the tragedy in song.

The song, “The Titanic” (sometimes called “"It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down") has been documented as early as 1915, but probably emerged shortly after the incident in 1912. According to American Negro Folk-Songs (Newman I. White, original publication 1928) “The Titanic” is a children’s nursery rhyme sung at summer camps. Judging by the strangely upbeat tone of the song I tend to believe this account. Other versions of the song have been documented to the early 1920s.

Some texts mistakenly credit a 1927 recording by William and Versey Smith of Chicago, Illinois as the first recording of “The Titanic”. I have no clue who Will and Versey Smith are, but Pop Stoneman recorded the song in 1925. I’ve included Pop’s early recording along with Patsy Stoneman’s recent recording. (Ha! I’ve managed to slip two Autoharp songs into the same post.)

Leadbelly recorded a different version of “The Titanic” during his last sessions with Folkways.

And the last selection is a self-penned tribute to the Titanic by a Dutchman that lives in Vienna and is a master of American blues and folk. Hans Theessink (pronounced Tay-sink) like many of us, was taken by the blues in the 1960s and has turned his love of American roots music into an impressive career. His beautiful voice and artistic guitar work are worth further listening if you aren’t familiar with his work.

Ernest Stoneman – The Titanic.mp3

Patsy Stoneman - Titanic.mp3
from the wonderful 3 cd set Autoharp Legacy available from Autoharp Quarterly.

Leadbelly – The Titanic.mp3

Hans Theessink - Titanic.mp3
for more info about Hans visit


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed good post
I do like listening to Leadbellys music but I would really love to hear him just tell some stories
You know it would have to be a hoot..


January 18, 2007 7:36 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I have to agree, Joey. For a small instant I almost edited the dialog out of this file, but it's just too good not to share.

January 18, 2007 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Lisa H said...

The Italian songwriter Francesco DeGregori has a whole album called "Titanic," from about the early '80s, with a cycle of songs from the point of view of different people (and classes) on the ship. There were a lot of Italians on board. I don't know if there are older Italian songs as well.

January 19, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Lisa, I had not heard of Francesco DeGregori. The album sounds interesting, I'll keep an eye out for it.

January 19, 2007 5:08 PM  

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