A Tribute To The Musicians On The Titanic

96 Years Ago Today - A Tribute To The Titanic Musicians
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Category: Music


A Tribute To The Musicians Of The Titanic - 96 Years After Their Deaths (April 15th, 1912)

To give you a quick recap of the times, it's important to know that cruise ship musicians were of the highest caliber. The hours were long and the repertoire, at that time, was extensive (having to memorize approximately 325 tunes) and the pay was deplorable. They did use song books at times but it was preferred that they have many of the tunes memorized.


The 8 musicians on the Titanic were not employees of the ship line but were employees of The Black Brothers Booking Company, who were agents with several maritime companies. The Black Brothers had many musicians under contract and as a result could provide the musicians at a lower price. Obviously, this caused a lot of problems with the Union. However, musicians needed the work and a salary with free room and board appeared a good inducement so they stayed with the agents.

Prior to 1912, ship musicians were considered an integral part of the crew. They were paid around $50 per month and were given a uniform allowance. At the end of 1911, the Black Brothers offered musicians at a lower pay scale of $30 - $40 per month (with the Bandmaster probably getting $10 more), no uniform allowance and they were given ticket numbers to show they were grouped in with the second class passengers. (A situation which later worked against their families.)

The maiden voyage of the Titanic caused the ship line to seek out the best musicians available so the Black Brothers moved Wallace Hartley, from his current position on a different ship to take on the leadership of the Titanic orchestra. He was selected as bandmaster because of his reputation as a highly skilled arranger, composer and player and was known to be a man with a "common touch". (I'm assuming that means that he was a "down to earth" kind of guy.) Before leaving to take up the leadership as the Titanic's Bandmaster, Hartley had been credited with 80 transatlantic voyages.

The types of music that would've been played by the Titanic Orchestra would have been love songs, waltzes, overtures, music hall melodies, serenades, some opera and classical pieces. America's major musical contribution at that point would've been ragtime. Some of the specific titles being played would have been: "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Glow Worm", "Frankie & Johnny", "The Merry Widow", "It's A Long Way To Tipperary", "Maple Leaf Rag", "Rondo From Serenade", Selections from "Carmen", "Slavonic Dance in E Minor", "Skaters Waltz", and "Give My Regards To Broadway, to name more than a few…

Even though there were eight musicians in total, they usually separated into two groups. A trio played mostly in the lounge and the second-class dining room. The other group members remained in the first-class lounge, the dining saloon or the first-class entrance to the boat deck. The portable string players (trio) would often stroll in the dining area where they would serenade by taking requests. The 5 piece group kept to the ship's policy of being heard and not seen. They would set up behind palm tree planters and outside doorways. The 5 piece group was also in attendance for Sunday services that were usually conducted by the Captain, and they led the congregation in the popular hymns of the day.


The following is a list of the orchestra members, along with their main instrument (secondary, if applicable), group with which they played, and their age at the time of death.


Wallace Hartley, Bandmaster, Violin - 5 Piece Orchestra - Age 34

Theodore Brailey, Piano/Cello - 5 Piece - Age 24

Roger Bricoux, Cello - Trio - Age 20

John Frederick Clarke, Viola/String Bass - 5 Piece - Age 30

John Hume, Violin - 5 Piece - Age 28

George Krins, Violin - Trio - Age 23

Percy Taylor, Violin/Piano - Trio - Age 32

John Woodward, Cello - 5 Piece - Age 32

According to many of the survivors, the music being played as the passengers boarded the lifeboats was cheerful. The selections were mostly ragtime and gave the impression to the passengers on deck that all was under control, there was no need to panic. Many of the survivors expressed their gratitude to the Titanic band for helping to maintain an air of decorum during the scramble for the lifeboats. Others criticized the band for playing, saying that "having the band on deck gave people a false impression that things weren't that bad and it caused many to take the situation lightly, thus preventing many from entering the life boats". This argument is left to conjecture, but what is known is that the band's music did help to soothe the passengers and most likely prevented panic as the last of the boats were leaving.

Later it was learned, through the secretary of the Musicians Union, that the band had received orders to continue playing so that panic among the passengers would be avoided. It was also disclosed that none of them were wearing life jackets. A surviving first-class passenger later stated that he was convinced that, in both receiving the order to continue to play and responding to it, they sacrificed their lives to avoid further chaos on the ship.

At 2:00 A.M. the last boat, Collapsible D, left the ship. It was now 2:05 A.M. and more than 1,500 people were still aboard (don't get me started on that!!! - As most of you know, many of the lifeboats were launched being only HALF FULL—What the F&%*!!!!!). Anyway, the Titanic sank lower and lower at the bow, and the stern began to rise out of the water. There was little time left and the band continued to play. The assumption is that, as the deck became so steep, bandmaster Hartley released the musicians from duty. However the musicians, according to lifeboat survivors, must have chosen to stay with the ensemble, because many of them heard the orchestra playing a hymn. It was the last song the band would play and the last song survivors heard before the boat broke into two pieces. Minutes later, all of those left on deck were washed away as the Titanic made its last plunge.

All eight of these men died when the Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912. Three of the bodies were recovered. If any of the others were recovered, they were never identified. According to the surviving passengers, they will be forever remembered by their acts of courage on that that fateful night.


Unfortunately, their courageous act was not to be immediately compensated. The decision by the White Star line to carry the musicians as second-class passengers in order to avoid paying them the extra "shilling" that was paid to personnel to make them official crew members would come back to haunt the families of the musicians. They were unable to claim benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act because the ship line insisted that they were second-class passengers and not covered by the Act. As well, The Black Brothers Agency completely abdicated their responsibility and declared that the families should seek compensation from the insurer. However, the insurer claimed that they were passengers working as independent contractors and using Black Brothers as a booking company. Even the Musicians Union made an appeal to the ship line, saying the men had performed an act of heroism, however the ship line did not budge on their position. The families finally went to court and the decision rendered was that the musicians were passengers working as independent contractors, not employees. In the end, the Titanic Relief Fund, which was an umbrella organization for worldwide charities, saved the families.

As the word filtered out that the Titanic had hit an iceberg and sunk with the loss of several lives, the tales of the survivors became front page news. Headlines in one of Britain's papers was "The Orchestra Played On". In New York, the Times said, "Band Played Solemn Hymn as The Great Ship Sunk".

Eventually the name of bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, surfaced as the central figure on the ship when it went down and the ensemble achieved immortality. The bravery of the band, in their effort to convey hope and comfort to others without any consideration for their own safety, created an outpouring of sympathy around the world.

With all that being said, I would like to pose a question to my fellow musicians (especially those of us that have played on cruise ships). How do you think that scenario would go down today? (No pun intended!) Okay, so maybe some of you would've jumped in front of the women and children and maybe some of you wouldn't have. If you were one of those left on the ship, realizing that all of the lifeboats were gone, wouldn't you keep playing, too? It would seem to me that would be the only comfort I would be able to find at that point. If you agree, what song would YOU choose to play? Just a little something to think about while remembering and paying tribute to those that have gone before.

P.S. Three items of note:

1) No drummers were hurt in the sinking of the Titanic.

2) Tax day doesn't seem that bad when you consider that, at least you're not on a sinking ship! (Literally, that is…)

3) This information was gathered from various articles, books, etc... and since this is not for a school project, I will not be listing the resources. Deal with it!

Take care… xxxooo, Gina

6 comments

  • TITANIC

    TITANIC

    FEEL SORRY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO DIED IN THE TITANIC :(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:blush::mad::rolleyes:

    FEEL SORRY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO DIED IN THE TITANIC frownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownfrownblushmadrolleyes

  • Bill Boyington

    Bill Boyington

    Hi, Gina. This blog of yours is terrific ! I'm a 59 yr.-old Bassist...same age that Captain Smith was. I believe that my last song selection would have to be "TALK TO YA LATER" by The TUBES. All The Best. Bill Boyington, London, Ont. Canada

    Hi, Gina.
    This blog of yours is terrific !
    I'm a 59 yr.-old Bassist...same age that Captain Smith was.
    I believe that my last song selection would have to be "TALK TO YA LATER" by The TUBES.
    All The Best.
    Bill Boyington, London, Ont. Canada

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