WHEN THAT GREAT SHIP WENT DOWN

Latest update on 02/02/2017

Artist: William & Versey Smith
Author: William Smith/Versey Smith
Label: Paramount
Year: 1927

Sheetmusic (1912) published in Paul Oliver's book Songsters & Saints, where it's called Destruction Of The Titanic, crediting Smith, probably the same who cut it with his wife for Paramount 15 years later. Reissued on disaster songs box set People Take Warning (Tompkins Square).

Covers:

1944:

Woody Guthrie [with Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry]

1998:

Rory Block [as Titanic (When That Great Ship Went Down)]

2006:

Gavin Friday & Man Seezer [on The Harry Smith Project - Anthology of A1merican Folk Music Revisited]

A master disaster like the sinking of the Titanic triggered a floodwave of topical songs, beginning less than a week after the facts, when a blind preacher in Durham was the first to bring his own account in a streetcorner song. He was soon followed by Edith Lessing (1912 - Just As The Ship Went Down], William Baltzell (1912 - The Wreck Of The Titanic - piano solo and as a ballet], Dorothy Scarborough (1919), Fanny Grogan ('20 - The Great Titanic], Ernest V. Stoneman ('25 - Sinking Of The Titanic), Richard 'Rabbit' Brown ('27 - Sinking Of The Titanic), Frank Hutchison ('27 - The Last Scene Of The Titanic), Blind Willie Johnson ('29 - God Moves On The Water, covered by Ruthie Foster in 2012], Darby & Tarlton ('30), Hi Henry Brown ('32 - Titanic Blues), Dixon Brothers ('37 - Down With The Old Canoe), Lead Belly ('40s), The Carter Family ('50s), Almeda Riddle ('59), Bill Jackson ('60s). Most of these folk songs see the disaster as a warning, as a symbol of God's power over wealth, hybris and machinery, sometimes even as a herald for more calamities to come, WW I in particular. Titanic sank against a backdrop of worldwide scepsis against unbridled mecanisation, wild fortunes being made and social structures well under pressure. An unsinkable ship going down during it's maiden trip, taking the lives of both third class passengers and wealtiest patrons, blew everyone's mind from day one. There's rich and poor man verses since the very first Smith version.

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