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The Titanic (song)

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Title: The Titanic (song)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 1915 songs, David Berkeley, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Children's songs, Anthology of American Folk Music
Collection: 1915 Songs, American Folk Songs, Children's Songs, Lead Belly Songs, Rms Titanic in Fiction
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Titanic (song)

"The Titanic"
Song by Ernest Stoneman 1924
Written 1915 or 1916
Published William and Versey Smith 1927
Writer unknown
Composer unknown
Language English

"The Titanic" (also known as "It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down" and "Titanic (Husbands and Wives)") is a folk song and children's song most known for being sung in the United States at summer camp. "The Titanic" is about the sinking of the RMS Titanic which sank on April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg.


  • Background 1
    • History 1.1
    • Variants 1.2
    • Parody Verses 1.3
  • Recordings 2
  • In popular culture 3
  • References 4
  • Works Cited 5
  • External links 6



The first folk songs about the Titanic disaster appeared within weeks after the disaster.[1] Recordings of various songs about the disaster date to as early as 1913.[2]


The canonical version of the song has the chorus:[2]

"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."

In most variants, although not the earliest,[3] the chorus starts with a line "it was sad, so sad, it was sad", and in many versions, the line "to the bottom of the..." appended after the repeat of "went down." Other than the chorus, different versions may contain verses in different order.

There are several regional variations on the song. According to Newman I. White's 1928 book American Negro Folk-Songs, "The Titanic" has been traced back to 1915 or 1916 in Hackleburg, Alabama. Other versions from around 1920 are documented in the Frank C. Brown Collection at Duke University in North Carolina. Early recordings include Ernest Stoneman's "The Titanic" (Okeh 40288) in September 1924 and William and Versey Smith's "When That Great Ship Went Down" in August 1927.

According to Jeff Place, in his notes for the Anthology of American Folk Music:[4] "African-American musicians, in particular, found it noteworthy and ironic that company policies had kept Blacks from the doomed ship; the sinking was also attributed by some to divine retribution."

Parody Verses

A large number of parody verses exist, either added following the serious lyrics, or sung instead of the usual verses; for example, replacing the line "husbands and wives, little children lost their lives" with "uncles and aunts, little children lost their pants."


In popular culture

"The Titanic" was sung by Paul Newman and Brandon de Wilde's characters after a drunken night out, in the 1963 film Hud.

Traditionally, the University of California Marching Band performs the song during its march up to Memorial Stadium from Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus.

The Romantic song is commonly sung at many Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps, and other children's camps with numerous more hilarious verses added on.


  1. ^ Perkins (1922) notes that: "The 'Titanic' sank on Sunday, April 14, 1912. The following Sunday I saw on a train a blind preacher selling a ballad he had composed on the disaster. The title was 'Didn't that ship go down?'" (cited by Habling 2008)
  2. ^ a b Habing 2008
  3. ^ White 1928 (cited by Habing 2008)
  4. ^ Place, J., "Supplemental notes on the selections," selection 22, in H. Smith (ed), liner notes, Anthology of American Folk Music, page 50 (1952). (accessed 7 October 2014)

Works Cited

  • Habing, B. (September 28, 2008). "The Great Titanic - American Folk Song(romantic song)". Poem of the Week. Retrieved September 28, 2008. 
  • Perkins, A.E. (1922). "Negro Spirituals from the Far South". Journal of American Folk-Lore. 35, 223. 
  • Levang, Rex (January 1999). "It Was Sad When the Great Ship Went Down". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved December 2, 2005. 
  • White, Newman I. (1928). American Negro Folk-Songs. Harvard University Press. 
  • Google: Titanic

External links

  • [1] - Lyrics on Scoutorama website.
  • [2] - Lyrics with "Uncles and aunts, little children lost their pants" variation.
  • The Sinking Of The Titanic – Music and lyrics.
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