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Origin: The Titanic (husbands and wives)

DigiTrad:
BALLAD OF JOHN WILLIAMS
DOWN WITH THE OLD CANOE
GOD MOVES OVER THE WATER
HAVE YOU GOT ANY NEWS OF THE ICEBERG?
SINKING OF THE TITANIC
THE TITANIC (COLD AND ICY SEA)
THE TITANIC (GONE TO REST)
THE TITANIC (HUSBANDS AND WIVES)
THE TITANIC 6
TITANIC (7)
TITANIC (RISE NO MORE)


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GUEST,fjsmith@msn.com 08 May 01 - 07:14 PM
Chicken Charlie 08 May 01 - 07:32 PM
Chicken Charlie 08 May 01 - 07:41 PM
RWilhelm 08 May 01 - 07:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 May 01 - 08:11 PM
toadfrog 08 May 01 - 09:26 PM
Noreen 08 May 01 - 09:54 PM
Noreen 08 May 01 - 10:07 PM
Bev and Jerry 09 May 01 - 12:57 AM
Liz the Squeak 09 May 01 - 02:47 AM
McGrath of Harlow 09 May 01 - 06:20 AM
Mrrzy 09 May 01 - 09:16 AM
Noreen 09 May 01 - 09:33 AM
Michael in Swansea 09 May 01 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,fretless (at work) 09 May 01 - 11:19 AM
GUEST,grannyjan 09 May 01 - 11:41 AM
Trapper 09 May 01 - 11:53 AM
Chicken Charlie 09 May 01 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,Allan S. 09 May 01 - 05:55 PM
The Archer man 23 Jul 08 - 01:51 PM
Amos 23 Jul 08 - 01:59 PM
Mark Ross 23 Jul 08 - 04:03 PM
Steve Gardham 23 Jul 08 - 04:34 PM
GUEST,LTS pretending to work 24 Jul 08 - 04:43 AM
Joe Offer 19 Apr 17 - 03:25 AM
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Subject: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: GUEST,fjsmith@msn.com
Date: 08 May 01 - 07:14 PM

Does anyone know the origin of this song?


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Chicken Charlie
Date: 08 May 01 - 07:32 PM

Jack Johnson was heavyweight boxing champ of the world in 1912; he was African-American. He was refused first class passage on RMS Titanic. When the ship sank, the folk world reacted as if it were a judgment on segregation by race, class, etc.

Mance Lipscomb does another song, entirely different but on the same subject, playing slide guitar on it.

Jacob Astor was a millionaire; he had plenty money to spare,
But when the Titanic was a-sinkin', Lawd! he could not pay the fare
, God knows; all the people had to run and pray.

CC


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Chicken Charlie
Date: 08 May 01 - 07:41 PM

More on the point of the class issue, look at the disparity of percentage saved between First, Second and Third Class. The only First Class women lost chose to stay with their husbands. In the Third Class, not even the kids were safe. Again, I hate being separated from notes; will post facts & figs tomorrow.

CC


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: RWilhelm
Date: 08 May 01 - 07:50 PM

The Titanic song about Jack Johnson is the one by Leadbelly. I think the song requested is the one we all sang at camp:

Husbands and wives
Little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship weht down

I don't know the origin but the basic theme is if you say a ship can never go down you are challanging God and he won't let you get away with it.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 May 01 - 08:11 PM

Hunt around a litle on the net and you can get a complete passenger list, with lists of survivors and non-survivors, where they embarked, and where they came from. Whole families. Steerage passengers didn't tend to be among the survivors.

Reading through the list brings it home, a bit like reading the names on a village war memorial. I can't ever sing that song as a happy singalong bit of fun.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: toadfrog
Date: 08 May 01 - 09:26 PM

Hey! Nobody has answered GUEST's question, which is, what is the origin of the song, i.e. who wrote it? When we know that, maybe the political stuff will fit, and again maybe not.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Noreen
Date: 08 May 01 - 09:54 PM

A quick search on Google gives an educational site which calls this song the 'Alan Lomax version' but he was a collector, wasn't he?


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Noreen
Date: 08 May 01 - 10:07 PM

This page attempts to trace this particular Titanic song back as close as possible to its origins


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Bev and Jerry
Date: 09 May 01 - 12:57 AM

We read somewhere on the net, probably right here at dis here forum, that there were more than 100 songs copyrighted in 1912, all called "The Titanic".

Bev and Jerry


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 09 May 01 - 02:47 AM

My dad worked with a bloke who was rescued as a child of 3 from the the Titanic, and he was travelling 2nd class. Also, one of my grandfather's uncles is named as a hospital steward on the Titanic - William or Richard Dunford - his family knew him as both, as when he was born there were 5 other Richard or William Dunfords in the same extended family. We haven't been able to trace him after 1912.... we don't even know if he was on it, because if he skipped ship - like so many did before it sailed - he would have changed his name to hide.....

Don't take the passenger list as gospel - lots of those crew were not on board when it went down!

I learned the song at school but could never find the book again afterwards - it was a school song book with other stuff like the proper version of the Red River Valley in it, probably published circa 1950 if it was anything like the rest of our text books......

I think singing the song will continue to make this thing a living memory, singing a sad song with a happy tune makes it stick in the memory. If we can't sing songs because some feel they are inappropriate, then there goes half the stuff from WWI.... and that was written by the soldiers themselves!!

LTS


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 May 01 - 06:20 AM

No, I wasn't suggesting not sing it. I like to sing it. But I think it'as best to think about the words while you're singing them.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Mrrzy
Date: 09 May 01 - 09:16 AM

We had a great version of this on that oddball folk song album by, I think, Gibson, or maybe Shep Ginandes (well, somewhere among the G's). The album is titled I believe Offbeat Folk Songs. It had the husbands and wives lyric, and more verses than any other version. I can sing this one, but I can't read the books about it without tearing up. We also used to sing the chorus, when we were kids, as Uncles and Aunts, little children lost their pants...


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Noreen
Date: 09 May 01 - 09:33 AM

We used to sing it at school, as:
husbands and wives, little doggies lost their lives...


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Michael in Swansea
Date: 09 May 01 - 09:44 AM

I've got this on a Stan Wilson LP my Dad bought in the late 50's. Been meaning to dig it out for a while.

Mike


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: GUEST,fretless (at work)
Date: 09 May 01 - 11:19 AM

"Husbands and wives Little children lost their lives"

"We used to sing it at school, as: husbands and wives, little doggies lost their lives..." ..................... Was anyone else as a child exposed to the parody: "Uncles and aunts, Itty bitty children lost their pants"?


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: GUEST,grannyjan
Date: 09 May 01 - 11:41 AM

I've got this in the Penguin book of American Folk songs - but I don't know how old the book is at is has lost its cover. It came to me with my husband, twenty eight years ago and was battered then.

I'll try and find out the date from the library.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Trapper
Date: 09 May 01 - 11:53 AM

Fretless-

>>Was anyone else as a child exposed to the parody: "Uncles and aunts, Itty bitty children lost their pants"?

Exposed... lost their pants... very funny!

We had three "choruses" at Boy Scout camp - it sounded cool to get them all going at once:

CHO1:
Husbands and Wives
Little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down

CHO2:
Uncles and Aunts,
Little children lost their pants
It was sad when the great ship went down

CHO3:
The sea, The sea
The sea, The sea
It was sad when the great ship went down

In the first two choruses the notes usually go "up", but if you get the baritones to sing chorus three and make the notes go down, it sounds harmonious.

Agreed, it's really too sad to sing rollicking, but then so are many children's songs (Ring around the rosie, London Bridge, Rock-A-Bye Baby, etc.) if you really listen to them.

- Al


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Chicken Charlie
Date: 09 May 01 - 02:57 PM

Contra toadfrog, I did not think the question was a simple "who wrote this?" Because, I was thinking, if that were the question, then fjsmith would simply have said, "Hey, who wrote this?" The more general question of origin led me to believe we were inquiring about what it was that triggered the composition.

Oh, well. Earliest known recording I'm aware of is Lead Belly's; Lipscomb, as I said, did a different but related song.

Now to answer the question I thought was being asked:

Percentages of passengers SAVED by class/gender/age:

1st Class children, 100%, women 97%, men 33%. 2nd Class children, 100%, women 86%, men 8% 3rd Class children, 34%, women 46%, men 16%.

22% percent of male crew and 87% of female crew were saved.

"They were nine days out of Liverpool, and almost to the shore,
When the rich refused to associate with the poor;
So they put them down below, where they were first to go.
It was sad when the great ship went down."

CC


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: GUEST,Allan S.
Date: 09 May 01 - 05:55 PM

At boy Scout camp I learned it as Uncles and Aunts Little children peed their pants. The older boys sang it as Pxxxed their pants. Actually there was a woman who lived near the camp and we were told never to sing the song where she could hear it as she had lost a relative on the ship


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: The Archer man
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 01:51 PM

any body got the lyrics to Titanic


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Amos
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 01:59 PM

The Great Titanic

It was on one Monday morning just about one o'clock
When that great Titanic began to reel and rock;
People began to scream and cry,
Saying, "Lord, am I going to die?"

                         Chorus

It was sad when that great ship went down,
It was sad when that great ship went down,
Husbands and wives and little children lost their lives,
It was sad when that great ship went down.

When that ship left England it was making for the shore,
The rich had declared that they would not ride with the poor,
So they put the poor below,
They were the first to go.

While they were building they said what they would do,
We will build a ship that water can't go through;
But God with power in hand
Showed the world that it could not stand.

Those people on that ship were a long ways from home,
With friends all around they did n't know that the time had come;
Death came riding by,
Sixteen hundred had to die.

While Paul was sailing his men around,
God told him that not a man should drown;
If you trust and obey,
I will save you all to-day.

You know it must have been awful with those people on the sea,
They say that they were singing, "Nearer My God to Thee."
While some were homeward bound,
Sixteen hundred had to drown.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The North Carolina version D has a similar chorus to the above Alabama version:


Oh it was sad when that great ship went down.
Their were husbands and their wives,
Little children lost their lives.
It was sad when that great ship went down.
with each verse ending in "It was sad when the great ship went down." as well. Beyond this, the principal difference is the order in which the verses occur


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Mark Ross
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 04:03 PM

"They built another ship and they called it MARY LOU,
The stern was painted green and the bow was painted blue,
They christened her with beer and she sunk right off the pier,
It was sad when the great ship....................."

That's the way I learned it at camp.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 04:34 PM

Re origins.
One of the earliest printed versions is given in N I White's 'Negro Folk-Songs, 1928. Friedman's Penguin Book of Folk Ballads of the English-Speaking World gives the White version and states....'1912. Southern balladeers immediately clapped the news into broadsides, one of them dated April 13th! The White text probably goes back to just such a tinted broadsheet, vended regularly in Negro districts before WWI for five cents. It has been reported from tradition in places as far apart as Alabama, Michigan and Texas.'

A version was published in the school songbook 'Songs to Sing' book 1 first published in 1963.

Incidentally I am often asked, as a song researcher, to identify fragments of various unidentified Titanic songs, but as already stated there were so many that this is almost impossible.

As for this most popular of all the Titanic songs, like most broadside ballads, even ones as late as this, it is almost impossible to identify the original when they were printed on such cheap unrecorded flimsy paper.


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Subject: RE: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: GUEST,LTS pretending to work
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 04:43 AM

The version I learnt began:

Oh, they built the ship 'Titanic' to sail the ocean blue,
And they thought they had a ship that the water would never go through,
But the Lord's almighty hand said that ship would never land,
It was sad when that great ship went down.

The rest of my version is more or less as given above, but with poorer scanning.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Origin: The Titanic (husbands and wives)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 19 Apr 17 - 03:25 AM

Here are the Digital Tradition lyrics for the "Husbands and Wives" version:


THE TITANIC (HUSBANDS AND WIVES)

Oh they built the ship Titanic
To sail the ocean blue
And they thought they had a ship
That the water would never go through;
But the Lord's Almighty hand
Said that ship would never land,
It was sad when that great ship went down

cho: It was sad. It was sad.
It was sad when the great ship went down.
(to the bottom of the...)
Husbands and wives,
Little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down.)

They were off for England
And not very far from shore
When the rich refused
To associate with the poor
So they sent them down below
Where they'd be the first to go
It was sad when that great ship went down

The boat was about to sink,
And the sides about to burst,
When the captain shouted, "All
Women and children first!"
Oh, the captain tried to wire,
But the wires was on fire,
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Oh, they swung the lifeboats out
O'er the deep and ragin' sea,
When the band struck up with,
"Nearer My God to Thee."
Little children wept and cried,
As the waves swept o'er the side,
It was sad when the great ship went down.

tune: Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane
DT #616
Laws D24
@sailor @wreck @camp
filename[ TITANIC5
TUNE FILE: LITTLEJO
CLICK TO PLAY
TUNE FILE: FALLRAIN
CLICK TO PLAY
RG

And here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry for this song:

Titanic (I), The ("It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down") [Laws D24] (Titanic #1)

DESCRIPTION: (Though the builders called her unsinkable), "On Monday morning... the great Titanic began to reel and rock." Rich and poor will not mix, so the poor on the lower decks drown first. The band plays "Nearer My God to Thee" and sixteen hundred people die
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1924 (recording, Ernest V. Stoneman)
KEYWORDS: sea wreck family disaster death
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
April 14/15, 1912 - Shortly before midnight, ship's time, the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. Only 711 survivors are found of 2224 people believed to have been aboard.
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Laws D24, "The Titanic I"
Randolph 693, "The Great Titanic" ("B" fragment only; Randolph's "A" text is "The Titanic (IV)" ("Lost on the Great Titanic") (Titanic #4))
BrownII 287, "The Titanic" (5 texts plus an excerpt and mention of 2 more. The Laws data for this book is badly confused, but it appears the "C" and "D" texts are this song, and apparently the "E" fragment also; "A" and "B" are broadsides Laws does not classify (The first clearly based on "The Golden Vanity"; the second seems to be an adaption of this song to "There Will Be a Hot Time"), and "H" is "God Moves on the Water")
BrownSchinhanIV 287, "The TItanic" (4 exceprts, 4 tunes, with "B" being presumably the same as Brown's "B" broadsiide, ""D" and "E" being "Titanic (I) 'It Was Sad When THat Great Ship Went Down'," and "H" being "God Moves on the Water" ("Titanic (III)")
MHenry-Appalachians, pp. 88-89, "The Great Titanic" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 323, "The Titanic" (1 text+2 fragments)
Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 60 "When That Great Ship Went Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 723, "The Ship Titanic" (1 text, 1 tune)
Courlander-NFM, p. 77, "(The Titanic)" (1 text)
Pankake-PHCFSB, pp. 280-281, "The Titanic" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 184-185, "The Coast of Peru" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 55, "The Titanic" (1 text)
DT 616, TITANIC5*
ADDITIONAL: Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, pp. 403-404, "Wasn't IT Sad When That Great Ship Went Down" (1 text)

Roud #774
RECORDINGS:
Pink Anderson, "The Titanic" (on PinkAnd1, Class AfrAm)
Vernon Dalhart, "The Great Titanic" (Champion 15121, 1926) (Radiex 4131=Grey Gull 4131 [as Jeff Calhoun], 1927)
George Reneau, "The Sinking of the Titanic" (Vocalion 5077, 1926)
Ernest V. Stoneman, "The Titanic" (OKeh 40288, 1925; rec. 1924); "Sinking of the Titanic" (Edison 51823, 1926) (CYL: Edison [BA] 5200, 1926); "Sinking of the Titanic" (on Stonemans02)
William & Versey Smith, "When That Great Ship Went Down" (Paramount 12505B, 1927; on AAFM1)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. all the other Titanic songs (plot)
cf. "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" (tune)
NOTES: Despite this song (and other folklore), the band on the Titanic did NOT play "Nearer My God to Thee" as the ship sank. Instead, they played light music to prevent panic.
The reference to rich and poor not mixing is accurate enough, though hardly unique to the Titanic. As with most liners of the time, the Titanic carried three classes of passengers: First class, second class, and steerage, for the poorest people (mostly emigrants, and mostly jammed in their cabins as tight as sardines)
Steerage passengers, of course, were stuck far down in the ship. Ballad, p. 168, has a side view of the ship's plans, showing that many of the steerage passengers were four floors below the main deck, near the waterline, whereas the first class passengers were mostly above the main deck, with easy access to the lifeboats.
It showed in the casualties. According to Paine, 60% of the first class passengers survived (Ballard, p. 149, reports that every child in first class, save one, survived, and she died only because she wouldn't leave her mother, who wouldn't leave her husband). 42% of second class passengers survived, but only 25% of steerage (comparable to the 24% of the crew who survived).
Some versions of this, including Friedman's, have a reference to Paul's promise that "not a man should drown"; this is a reference to Acts 27:34, when Paul is on his way to Rome and the ship in which he is being held prisoner is driven by a storm. Friedman wonders if there might not be an earlier song about Paul's wreck which gave rise to a Titanic text. It seems likely enough, and the verse about Paul is a likely survival, since it is almost irrelevant in its current place in the text.
In fact, we might even make a guess as to the source of the verse. Most recordings of this song use an approximation of Ernest Stoneman's tune. But Wade Mainer eventually recorded a version (not cited here because I don't know the album number) which uses a tune effectively identical to the one he uses for "Home in the Rock." So that could be a source for scripture references.
To tell this from the other Titanic songs, consider the chorus:
It was sad when that great ship went down,
It was sad when that great ship went down.
There were husbands and wives,
Little children lost their lives,
It was sad when that great ship went down.
For an extensive history of the Titanic, with detailed examination of the truth (or lack thereof) of quotes in the Titanic songs, see the notes to "The Titanic (XV)" ("On the tenth day of April 1912") (Titanic #15)
In an interesting footnote, the Ernest Stoneman version of this almost didn't get released, according to Mazor, pp. 58-59. Stoneman had recorded two songs for OKeh, and Ralph Peer and Co. decided that the two cuts were too fast for popular release. They told Stoneman, and he offered to come to the studio at his own expense and re-record them, as long as he got to record two more sides. Peer and Stoneman made the agreement, and "The Titanic" was one of the songs released as a result. - RBW
Bibliography
  • Ballard: Dr. Robert D. Ballard, The Discovery of the Titanic, Warner, 1987
  • Mazor: Barry Mazor, Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music, Chicago Review Press, 2015
  • Paine: Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World: An Historical Encylopedia, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
Last updated in version 4.1
File: LD24

Go to the Ballad Search form
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The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

Here's the 1924 recording by Ernest V. Stoneman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skSUX7pNmSU

Does anybody sing this version seriously? The Stoneman recording is serious, but I've always heard it as a camp or drinking song. I think I first heard it from my parents in 1958 or so when they were coming home from a rather rowdy neighborhood party. When did the song transform from serious to silly?


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