Titanic's Band That Played On
By Steve Turner
Author: The Band That Played On
Excerpted from the book The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic
Chapter One: That Glorious Band
On the night of April 18, 1912, a dimly lit low-slung steamer with a single black funnel graciously eased its way up the lower reaches of the Hudson River headed toward Cunard's Pier 54. Never before had the arrival of one ship been the focus of so much anticipation and speculation. New York's traffic was gridlocked, police barriers had been erected around the west end of 12th Street, and the eyes of the world were focused on a gangway that would soon connect lower Manhattan with the British steamer Carpathia.
More than fifty tugboats manned by journalists had been nipping at the vessel as she made her approach, hoping to be rewarded with shouted out answers to questions or handwritten scraps of information that would put them one step ahead of their competitors in the scramble for headlines. Reporters with megaphones made offers of $50 or $100 for firsthand reports, while photographers lit up the side of the ship with their flashes of magnesium powder. Some of them even tried to invade it when a rope ladder was let down for the river pilot to climb on, and they had to be forced back by Second Officer James Bisset.
The object of all the attention was not the ship's prebooked passengers who'd set out for the Mediterranean exactly a week before, but the more than 706 survivors of the world's worst shipwreck who'd been hauled on board from the freezing Atlantic. The Titanic had gone down almost four days previously, and the story of its loss had dominated the front pages of newspapers around the world. But beyond knowing that it had collided with an iceberg, and that the majority of the crew and passengers had died, very few hard facts had reached the shore. An early report had suggested that all were safe, and a wrongly attributed wireless message gave the impression that the damaged Titanic was being towed slowly back to port.
Speculation had developed that a cover-up was being mounted, that the meager output from the Carpathia's wireless room—a provisional list of survivors—and the refusal to answer press inquiries was a stalling tactic to give the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, himself a Titanic survivor, time to concoct an official explanation that would absolve him and his company of negligence charges. An intercepted wireless message from the Carpathia indicated that Ismay wanted the Carpathia to let its passengers off farther downriver to avoid the press.
The public naturally wanted to know how this apparently invincible liner had come to grief on what should have been a routine Atlantic crossing, but for most of the curious the explanation would have little or no immediate impact on their lives. For the friends and families of Titanic passengers, the need to know was vital to their peace of mind. Many of them gathered in the shed at the entrance to Pier 54 uncertain as to whether they would see their loved ones emerge. For newspapers, getting an accurate record of this event was a professional duty and an unparalleled editorial challenge.
The Carpathia's arrival hadn't been expected until the early hours of April 19, so when it was spotted at 6:10 p.m. on the eighteenth, off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, the news spread quickly through the city and the streets began to fill with traffic. Limousines and touring cars sped so quickly down the newly asphalted Seventh Avenue that many of them slipped on its rainy surface and found themselves running into the curbs. Police were brought in to ensure that no one was allowed on the pier itself but the two thousand already issued passes.
Although the city was frenzied as it readied itself to receive the survivors, the atmosphere in Cunard's shed was muted. There was only a hush occasionally punctuated by sobbing. Pass holders were organized in groups behind placards bearing the initial of their loved one's surname. This was to make it easy for survivors to connect with their waiting parties. In addition to friends and relatives, there were professional caregivers: officers from the Salvation Army offering hospitality to those with no local contacts, doctors in white jackets and nurses in uniform to attend the sick and injured, representatives from the White Star Line to answer questions and handle problems. Against the walls of the shed was a row of stretchers for those too emotionally traumatized or physically damaged to make the walk.
Half a mile above Battery Park, the Carpathia released thirteen now empty Titanic lifeboats in order to deny newspapers the opportunity to photograph them. Three of the original sixteen they had picked up were too damaged to haul back, and they were left at the wreck site. The thirteen were all that remained of the proud steamer that had left Southampton on April 10 for its maiden voyage. Everything else was spread out over the ocean bed 550 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.
The Carpathia turned toward the Cunard Pier, where at 9:30 it tied up. The first person to emerge was a sailor dressed in a yellow oilskin. Then out came the first survivor, a fragile and unsteady woman who needed the support of a ship's officer. She was collected by her husband, who wept tears of joy and relief on her shoulder. This scene, and ones very like it, was played over and over again through the night. In many cases the longed-for face didn't appear, and there were tears of bitterness and loss.
For waiting journalists the challenge was to work out how best to use their limited time in researching and writing the most dynamic and informative copy for the next morning's papers. This was clearly a story that would win or lose the reputations of newspapers, editors, and reporters. Everything from advanced planning and breadth of coverage to shorthand skills and speedy copyediting would be put to the test. This truly was journalism as the first draft of history.
The New York Times had led the way in the accuracy and scope of its reportage. Its newsroom received the first Associated Press report that the Titanic was in trouble at 1:20 on April 15, based on a message picked up by a Marconi station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. It stated that an iceberg had been hit, lifeboats were in the water, and a distress signal had been sent. Half an hour after this initial contact, wireless communication from the stricken liner ended. Working late that night was the paper's inspirational managing editor, Carr Van Anda, who cast his eye over the facts and intuitively felt that something far worse than a damaging collision had taken place.
After telling correspondents in Montreal and Halifax to pursue the story, he trawled the cuttings library and found that there was a history of shipping collisions with icebergs in this vicinity. The Carmania, which had arrived in New York only the day before, had reported a field of ice. A year before the Anchor line ship Columbia had smashed her stern in the same area. Two years before that the Volturne had found itself "pinched" by moving ice, some of which ground along its side.
Other ships had reported an ice pack during the past week. The Niagara had been badly dented, the Lord Cromer and the Kura had both been damaged below the waterline, and the Armenia reported an ice field at least seventy miles long. Captain Dow of the Carmania had been quoted as saying: "I never saw so much ice and so little whisky and lime juice in all my life. Had the ingredients been handy there would have been a highball for every man in the world!"
Although Van Anda knew that he couldn't go into print announcing the loss of the Titanic—as yet there was no conclusive evidence—he used his hunch to give the story of an Atlantic collision the prominence worthy of a disaster. He spread the news over four columns, and around the core information about the distress call and subsequent radio silence, he packed stories of the other ships that had encountered ice, listed important passengers, and used images of the captain and his ship. He employed the word sinking in the early editions, and there are claims that he used sunk in later editions, although, if he did, no copy of this edition is known to exist.
The arrival of the Carpathia with its hundreds of eyewitnesses presented a logistical problem for all newspapers. Who were the best passengers or crew members to interview? How should the rapacious appetite for facts and truth be balanced against the need of survivors for peace and consolation?
What was the most effective yet honest way of getting an exclusive on a story that would spread as quickly as a virus once the survivors were home?
Van Anda hatched a plan. He booked an entire floor of the Strand Hotel at 502 West 14th Street, close to Pier 54, to use as the New York Times base while it covered the arrival. Telephones on this floor would be linked directly to a desk at the Times where quotes and descriptions filed by reporters could be instantly hammered into stories by skilled rewrite boys. The journalists could then be reassigned to other interviews. The Times, in common with all other papers, was only granted four pier passes, but Van Anda ordered an additional twelve reporters to head down to the area to mingle with arriving survivors and their kin.
The most vital source, Van Anda knew, was Harold Bride, the Titanic's twenty-two-year-old junior Marconi operator, who had not only survived the sinking but had worked the wireless of the Carpathia as it sailed back to America. With the captain and most of the senior officers dead, he was the only person alive who would have been present at the heart of the drama. He had been in direct contact with Captain Edward Smith, had communicated with nearby ships, had witnessed the rescue, and would have been one of the last men to leave the ship. He also had the advantage of being able to explain what he saw in nautical terms.
But how could the New York Times gain access to the Carpathia when both Cunard and the docks authority were fiercely guarding it? Van Anda came up with a solution. He would involve the Marconi organization. Cunard might turn back a reporter, but not Guglielmo Marconi, the celebrated inventor, entrepreneur, and Nobel Prize winner, whose name was synonymous with wireless communications. It was his recently developed equipment that was revolutionizing sea travel. It was unlikely that any Titanic passengers would have been saved if not for the Marconi wireless transmitter.
If Bride gave an exclusive interview, it would enhance the name of Marconi as much as that of the New York Times. Bride wouldn't lose out either. The fee for his story would equal three years' wages as a wireless operator. The Marconi office had already sent three messages to its own wireless room advising the operators to hold their stories until approached by the New York Times. The last of these, addressed to "Marconi Officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic" and signed by American Marconi's chief engineer Frederick Sammis, simply said: "Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr. Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock." This was later assumed to be another reason for the Carpathia's media blackout. Even President Taft couldn't get in touch to find out whether his trusted military aide Major Archibald Butt had survived. (He had not.)
On the night of April 18, presumably unaware that the Carpathia was ahead of schedule, Marconi was at a party. Van Anda sent a messenger to fetch him down to Pier 54 to board the ship with Sammis and New York Times reporter Jim Speers. It was now around 11:30 and almost all the passengers had already disembarked. The copy would have to be ready for the printer within an hour if it was to make the first edition on April 19.
When they got to the pier, police stopped them. The reporter, Speers, protested: "Sir, we are Mr. Marconi, his manager, and a New York Times reporter." The officer pushed the Marconi engineer Sammis back, believing him to be the journalist in question, saying, "Mr. Marconi and his manager may pass through. The reporter can't." Speers and Marconi boarded, while Sammis had to remain behind the police line. The two men made their way to the wireless room where they found Bride still tapping out messages left for him by passengers. "That's hardly worth sending now, boy," said Marconi. Bride, his frostbitten feet still bandaged, looked up slowly and then recognized his distinguished employer.
Bride's story, which he poured out to Speers in a rambling monologue, was everything Van Anda had hoped it would be. He'd got out of bed on the night of April 14 to relieve the senior operator, Jack Phillips, only to find that the Titanic had been in a collision. He watched as Phillips calmly made contact with the Carpathia and the Olympic and saw Captain Smith's dawning realization that the ship was beyond salvation.
In a sensational comment, he revealed that a stoker (one of the men who stoked the ship's furnaces with coal) had come into the Titanic's wireless room to steal Phillips's life jacket. Bride attacked him. "I did my duty," he said. "I hope I finished him. I don't know. We left him on the cabin floor of the wireless room and he was not moving." It was never clear from this or subsequent interviews whether Bride was claiming to have killed him or merely to have knocked him unconscious and left him to drown.
Phillips died of exposure while in the water. Bride found the last remaining collapsible boat, but when it was pushed overboard, it landed upside down with him underneath it. Bride managed to swim away as sparks poured from one of the Titanic's funnels, and the ship finally disappeared from view. After some time in the water, he was given space on his original boat, which had since been righted.
"Bride gave a detailed account of how the ship's band had carried on playing throughout the sinking. The matter-of-fact way he told the story gave it added poignancy: "From aft came the tunes of the band," he said. "It was a ragtime tune, I don't know what. Then there was 'Autumn.' Phillips ran aft and that was the last I ever saw of him alive."
His description of the ship's final moments suggested that the musicians didn't even attempt to escape in a lifeboat. "The ship was gradually turning on her nose—just like a duck does that goes down for a dive. I had only one thing on my mind—to get away from the suction. The band was still playing. I guess all of the band went down. They were playing 'Autumn' then. I swam with all my might. I suppose I was 150 feet away when the Titanic, on her nose, with her after quarter sticking straight up into the air, began to settle—slowly."
Bride ended by saying that two things about the sinking stood out in his mind above all others. One was that Jack Phillips had continued to send messages even after Captain Smith told him he was free to leave his position and look after his own life. The other was the band that played on. "The way the band kept playing was a noble thing . . . How they ever did it I cannot imagine."
The twenty-five-hundred-word first-person account appeared in the next day's New York Times along with fifty-two other stories about the ship. The headline was "Thrilling story by Titanic's wireless man." The subheadings were "Bride tells how he and Phillips worked and how he finished a stoker who tried to steal Phillips's life belt—Ship sank to tune of 'Autumn.' " The image of the lighted ship sliding under the waves ("She was a beautiful sight then"), while the band carried on regardless, captured the public's imagination. Getting to talk to Bride was a journalistic scoop and one that would be associated with Van Anda for the rest of his life. But there was another journalist who'd been one step ahead. Unbeknown to the New York Times, Carlos F. Hurd, a thirty-six-year-old reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, owned by Ralph Pulitzer, had been with his wife, Katherine, on the Carpathia as a paying passenger headed for the Mediterranean when it had diverted to pick up the Titanic survivors.
Hurd found himself in the sad but privileged position of being a writer surrounded by eyewitnesses of one of the biggest peacetime tragedies in living memory and having plenty of time to amass an oral record. He began to speak to those who'd been rescued and found that there was no need to coax information from them. Happy to have been saved, they "found a certain relief in speech." He took notes and employed Katherine as his assistant. The Carpathia's crew members, who'd been instructed by Captain Rostron to keep him away from the Titanic passengers, impeded his job. The crew refused him supplies of paper, banned him from contacting America by wireless, and had his cabin routinely searched for notes and transcripts. He was forced to write on anything available, including toilet paper, and to keep his material with him at all times.
Messages sent to him care of the ship's wireless room were not passed on, so he was out of contact with his editors. Despite that, he knew the New York staff would find a way to get to the Carpathia so that he could pass on to them this huge story. One of the telegrams that didn't reach him was sent on April 18 by Ralph Pulitzer: "Chapin is on tug Dazelline. Will meet Carpathia between New York and Fire Island Thursday. Been [sic] on lookout and deliver to Chapman [sic] tug your full report of wreck with all interviews obtainable." Charles Chapin was the editor of the Pulitzer-owned New York Evening World and Hurd had already anticipated what Chapin would want and had packaged his manuscript in a white waterproof bag, attached it to a cigar box, and added champagne corks on lengths of string, ready to toss it overboard. It was an unusual way of delivering copy, but these were unusual times.
Captain Rostron of the Carpathia tried to deceive the flotilla of tugboats that he knew was awaiting his arrival in New York waters by radioing false positions, but the Dazelline, which could equal the Carpathia's speed of fourteen knots, didn't fall for the trick. It managed to locate the ship and draw up close to it while a reporter bellowed Hurd's name through a megaphone. Spotting Pulitzer's flag, Hurd tossed the package toward the tug but, unfortunately, one of his corked strings tangled with a rope from a Titanic lifeboat, which had not yet been released and was still in the spot it had been hoisted to during the rescue. "A sailor reached out, took the bundle, and hesitated," Hurd later wrote. "'Throw it!' cried a dozen persons. The sailor tossed the bundle to Chapin. With an acknowledging toot of the tug's whistle, the little craft churned off."
The drama didn't end there. The tugboat ploughed its way toward an empty dock at the end of 12th Street, but after disembarking, the World employees found their exit blocked by a boarded-up warehouse with no electric lighting. They had to smash their way into the darkened building and out on the other side to make it to the street. An elevated train took them to the stop closest to the New York World building at 53–63 Park Row. During the journey Chapin hurriedly marked up Hurd's lengthy handwritten copy and added instructions to the typesetters. A reporter named "Gen" Whytock met him at the station and sprinted the half mile to the office with the script. By the time the Carpathia docked, an Extra edition of the Evening World was already on the street with a condensed version of the five-thousand-word story on the front page beneath the headline "Titanic Boilers Blew Up, Breaking Her in Two after Striking Berg." The St. LouisPost-Dispatch also managed to run this story in an Extra that night, putting the full story on the cover the next day.
Thus it was Hurd's story that first informed the world about the band playing on. In the Evening World he wrote: "The ship's string band gathered in the saloon, near the end, and played 'Nearer, My God, to Thee.'" The fuller version published in the next day's papers, and later syndicated by the Associated Press, read: "As the screams in the water multiplied, another sound was heard, strong and clear at first, then fainter in the distance. It was the melody of the hymn 'Nearer, My God, to Thee,' played by the string orchestra in the dining saloon. Some of those on the water started to sing the words, but grew silent as they realized that for the men who played, the music was a sacrament soon to be consummated by death. The serene strains of the hymn and the frantic cries of the dying blended in a symphony of sorrow."
The Leeds Mercury, which would have been read by bandleader Wallace Hartley's bereaved fiancée, Maria Robinson, contained a quote from Carlos Hurd in its April 20 edition. "To relate that as the last boats moved away the ship's string band gathered in the saloon and played 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' sounds like an attempt to give added colour to a scene which was in itself the climax of solemnity, but various passengers and survivors of the crew agree in declaring they heard this music."
Other accounts that confirmed Hurd's report swiftly followed. Caroline Bonnell from Youngstown, Ohio, who'd been traveling with two aunts, an uncle, and a cousin, told a reporter from the United Press Agency that those closest to the ship when it sank heard the men singing "Nearer, My God, to Thee." This story appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on April 19 and was picked up by other newspapers.
By the twentieth of April, the story was widely accepted and was viewed as one of the most heartening acts of bravery in the whole tragedy. Southampton resident Ada Clarke was pushed onto a lifeboat by her husband, who chose to remain behind. "I shouldn't have done it otherwise," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Oh, they were brave and splendid, all the men. They died like brave men. At the last, all the men were kneeling and there floated out across the water the strains of 'Nearer, My God, to Thee.' I could hear it and saw the band men kneeling too." Mrs. Caroline Brown of Belmont, Massachusetts, told the Worcester Evening Gazette: "The band played marching from deck to deck, and as the ship went under I could still hear the music. The musicians were up to their knees in water the last I saw them."
Under a headline of "Band Goes Down Playing," London's DailyMirror reported: "In the whole history of the sea, there is little equal to the wonderful behaviour of these humble players. In the last moments of the great ship's doom, when all was plainly lost, when braver and hardier men might almost have been excused for doing practically anything to save themselves, they stood responsive to their conductor's baton and played a recessional tune." In one edition the front page was given over entirely to the words and music of the hymn.
On April 21 the New York Times devoted a story to the musicians that favored the tune "Autumn" that Bride had mentioned in his interview as the band's swan song. They had taken him to mean a tune of that name used by Anglicans in England and Episcopalians in America, not taking into account the fact that a young wireless operator would be more likely to identify hymns by their first lines than by the name of their tunes. According to a correspondent to the New York Times on May 12, "Autumn" was not wedded to a particular hymn and listed seven hymns regularly set to "Autumn" in America: "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah," "Saviour Breathe an Evening Blessing," "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken," "Hail, Thou Once-Despised Jesus," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," and "In the Cross of Christ I Glory." In addition, the tune "Autumn" was also known in some hymnals as "Madrid" and in others as "Jaynes or Janes." Carlos Hurd himself later became less certain that the musicians had taken their last breaths playing "Nearer, My God, to Thee." He didn't question that the band had carried on playing and that they had played a hymn or hymns, but he couldn't be 100 percent sure that his sources could be trusted to accurately identify a tune, given their distance from the ship, the extraneous noises, and the dreamlike way that events seemed to unfold. Twenty years after the sinking he wrote:
The endeavour to fit such a story together showed how fragmentary was the knowledge of individuals. One would mention an incident which could be confirmed or completed only by another. In the search for the other, new suggestions and new complications would arise. The job would have taxed the energy and resources of a dozen reporters. An instance of this difficulty was the incident, still remembered, of the playing of the hymn music by the English musicians in the sinking ship's orchestra. Several persons told of having heard this music from their boats, but, because of distracting noises, they could not be sure what the melody was. Two women, who professed familiarity with sacred music, said it was "Nearer, My God, to Thee." This statement appeared in my report and gained general currency. The New York Times later obtained a book of music said to be a duplicate of the one which the Titanic's orchestra had. It did not contain the tune Bethany, to which the hymn already named is sung, but it did contain the hymn tune Autumn, which, though in a different meter, is much like Bethany. The Times concluded that Autumn was the number played.
Although minor details differed in the accounts of survivors—the band marched or knelt, played "Autumn" or "Nearer, My God, to Thee," carried on to the bitter end or calmly packed their instruments away before the final plunge—there was an overwhelming consistency. The musicians had played on the deck as the ship went down. They had forfeited their lives for the sake of others. They had played the tunes of hymns to induce a spirit of peace and calm. They were heroic. Admiral Lord Fisher of England referred to them as "that glorious band," and the phrase caught on.
The story of their gallantry came to epitomize a spirit of courage, duty, and self-sacrifice. It was held up as proof that manhood wasn't withering away through self-indulgence, frivolity, and lack of religion. Although the disaster itself was widely regarded as a comeuppance for the powerful and wealthy who had become fixated on speed, luxury, and the domination of nature, the behavior of the musicians showed that worthy "old-fashioned" values of chivalry, fortitude, and love of neighbor still persisted.
The names of the musicians began to appear in newspapers and magazines, although little was known about them. The Daily Mirror contacted Charles Black, the Liverpool agent who had booked the band for the Titanic, to find out more. He explained that there were, in fact, two bands—a "saloon orchestra" of five men, and a "deck band" of three. "Probably they all massed together under their leader, Mr. Wallace Hartley, as the ship sank," he suggested. "Five of the eight, Mr. Hartley, P. C. Taylor, J. W. Woodward, F. Clark and W. T. Brailey were Englishmen. One, J. Hume, was a Scotsman and the remaining two, Bricoux and Krins, were French and German respectively."
Neither the quintet nor the trio had played together before boarding the Titanic, three of the musicians had never before been to sea, and, not surprisingly, there was no group photograph to illustrate the stories describing their heroism. Their names were often misspelled or wrongly reported. In the New York Times the cellist John Wesley Woodward became George Woodward, the pianist Percy Cornelius Taylor became Herbert Taylor, violinist Georges Krins became George Krius, bandleader Wallace Hartley became Wallace Hattry, and cellist Roger Bricoux became Roger Brelcoux. (On one memorial he was permanently inscribed as Roger Bricouk.) Even agent Charles Black was confused about the nationality of Georges Krins. He thought Krins was German, not Belgian.
Almost two weeks after the sinking, the Illustrated London News produced a full-page memorial poster with oval portraits of all the musicians except Bricoux, whose family hadn't been able to supply a picture in time. A series of six postcards by Holmfirth, Bamforth & Co., featuring images of the Titanic, grieving women, and the words of "Nearer, My God, to Thee," was published. In France fifty thousand copies of the sheet music to "Plus Pres de Toi Mon Dieu" were sold in a matter of weeks. In America musician
Harold Jones and lyricist Mark Beam wrote a song titled "The Band Played 'Nearer, My God, Thee' as the Ship Went Down."
There the brave men stood,
Las true heroes should,
With their hearts in faith sublime,
And their names shall be fond memory
Until the end of Time.
And the band was bravely playing
The song of cross and crown
—"Nearer, My God, to Thee"
As the ship went down.
On May 18 bandleader Wallace Hartley's body was brought back to his Lancashire birthplace of Colne to be buried in the family vault alongside his two brothers who had died in infancy. The funeral was an event of epic proportions with crowds of thirty to forty thousand thronging the streets; photographs of the procession and burial were published around the world. Just as the band had given the victims of the sinking a human face, so Hartley gave a face to the band. He was the only one of the eight whose remains would return home.
His parents were inundated with letters from members of the public who claimed to share their grief. A typical letter read: "I desire to congratulate you sincerely on being the mother of a hero and a gentleman whose name—many years after yours and mine are forgotten—will bring a thrill of pride wherever Englishmen are gathered. The knowledge that your dear son died at his post giving comfort and consolation to hundreds of others must ever be a comforting and consoling memory to you." Others wanted souvenirs of a man they had never met—photographs, samples of his handwriting, copies of music he had touched, something he had owned.
Six days later the Orchestral Association mounted a memorial concert for the musicians at London's Royal Albert Hall. It featured a five-hundred-strong orchestra composed of members of London's seven main orchestras—the Philharmonic, the Queen's Hall, the London Symphony, the New Symphony, the Beecham Symphony, the Royal Opera, and the London Opera House. Conductors included Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, and composer Edward Elgar. Ada Crossley, an Australian soprano, sang a solo.
A century later the Titanic musicians' story is still known, not through newspaper accounts or even history books but through the movies Titanic (1953), A Night to Remember (1958), and Titanic (1997). Titanic societies keep their names alive as do excellent Web sites such as www.encyclopedia
-Titanica.org and www.Titanic- Titanic.com. In 1997 musician Ian Whitcomb recorded an album of tunes the band would have played and was nominated for a Grammy for his comprehensive sleeve notes. His musicians for the project were named the White Star Orchestra.
Yet despite widespread recognition of the event, we appear to know as much about the musicians as was known in 1912. A book published that year had asked: "What about the bandsmen? Who were they? This question was asked again and again by all who read the story of the Titanic's sinking and of how the brave musicians played to the last, keeping up the courage of those who were obliged to go down with the ship. Many efforts were made to find out who the men were, but little was made public." Although because of the Internet it's now much easier to retrieve contemporary accounts of the band's actions, the members still remain a ghostly presence. The same photographs are used repetitively, the same rumors are circulated, and other than Wallace Hartley, who entered the Oxford Dictionary of British Biography in 2010, the band members remain anonymous early-twentieth-century figures.
It's not hard to determine why this is so. These were not famous performers who had given interviews, filled in questionnaires, and been profiled during their lifetimes. None of them had written songs providing insights into their concerns or even, as far as we know, made recordings. For the most part, whatever diaries and letters they may have left behind have been lost over the years. They were famous for their deaths, not their lives. As a result, we know a lot about how they spent their last moments on the Titanic, but almost nothing about how they came to be there.
The Titanic sailed out of Southampton but was registered in Liverpool. It was from an office in Liverpool that they were hired, at a Liverpool outfitter that they had their bandsmen's uniforms adapted for the White Star Line, and from Liverpool stations that most of them left for what promised to be the journey of a lifetime. And so it is to Liverpool that we have to return to start the search for the band that played on.
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Steve Turner began his journalistic career as a features editor of the British rock monthly Beat Instrumental where, during a two year period, he interviewed many of the key figures of early 1970s rock. Turning freelance, he wrote for numerous rock publications druing which time his first book, Conversations with Eric Clapton, was published. In 1988, Bono invited him to write the book for the U2 movie Rattle and Hum. He then published biographies of British pop phenomenon Cliff Richard, Irish rock star Van Morrison, and soul legend Marvin Gaye.
Throughout his career Steve has maintained a special interest in the relationship between spirituality and popular culture as his two most recent books, Imagine: A Vision for Christians and the Arts, and Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, illustrate
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