Cunard Orchestra Repertoire


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May 25, 2003
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I'm wondering about the type of music the orchestra played on the last voyage. Would most of it be similar to what's on Whitcomb's Titanic CD? Better yet, is there a copy of what a 1915 orchestra repertoire from a Cunard ship available any place? Hoehling (I think) seems to mention "Just A Wearin' for You," although other songs I haven't seen mentioned. Also, since Britain was at war with Germany, would German songs like Lehar's "The Merry Widow Waltz" have been banned from British ships, or would orchestras have continued to play them anyway?

Just wondering.

Ren-Horng (James)
 

Jim Kalafus

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Ren- A Friend of mine has the 1915 Lusitania songbook. The selections range from marches, to then-current hits, to what might politely be referred to as "racially insensitive novelty tunes." The one tune which sticks in my head is the ragtime adaptation of "Liebestraum" which was reissued with much success in the 1930s, but most of the standards are represented. By coincidence, I have a copy coming in the mail, and will post further on the selection in a day or two when I have it here.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Ren,

I defer to Jim on music as he knows his stuff. But my take is that while some German music (and art) was being suppressed, the terribly common "Merry Widow" waltz and other tunes from that operetta were almost standards themselves by 1915. They would have been too popular too "pull."

And the boycotting of German artists was not only taking place in Great Britain. There was a movement underway in the US as well at this time. One of the most outspoken on the issue was the dancer Isadora Duncan who, though she made clear her sympathies for France, vehemently opposed the censoring of German art.

It is an interesting coincidence that she had initial (though never finalized) plans to sail on Lusitania's fatal voyage, accompanied by her troop of dancers. In her startlingly frank autobiography "My Life," still a classic, she had this to say about America and the music scene of 1915:

"...At the moment all New York had the jazz dance craze. Women and men of the best society, old and young, spent their time in the huge salons of such hotels as the Biltmore, dancing the fox trot to the barbarous yaps and cries of the Negro orchestra. I was invited to one or two gala dances at the time and could not restrain my indignation that this should be going on while France was bleeding and needing the help of America. In fact the whole atmosphere of 1915 disgusted me and I determined to return with my school to Europe..."

One will note that while she had an open mind to nationalities, she was as racially biased as anyone else of her day.

One selection Lusitania's orchestra would have played that last trip was that of the "Marseillaise." Isadora had in fact just improvised a hugely successful performance of it at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Another slice of the musical picture of early 1915 was Irving Berlin's ragtime hit "Watch Your Step," starring the ballroom dancing duo Vernon and Irene Castle and produced by Charles Dillingham at the New Amsterdam Theatre. It was the biggest show on Broadway and the songs were hits. "Play a Simple Melody" and "The Syncopated Walk" were some of the most popular to come out of this production and I feel it's more than likely they appeared in the repertoire of Lusitania's band on that last trip.

The racy lines of "The Syncopated Walk" were:

"Look at 'em doin' it, look at 'em doin' it
That syncopated walk
Look at 'em doin' it, look at 'em doin' it
I know who introduced it
That syncopated walk
Wait'll he reaches you, wait'll he teaches you
You'll be doin' it, too
That syncopated walk

Randy
 

Jim Kalafus

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I'll post 6 songs from each segment of the book when it arrives. Speaking of "racy" lyrics, was just listening to a disc of "Cocaine Blues" from 1914. Probably not featured on the Lusitania's final voyage (I called my Cora, Hey! Hey!/ She stood there sniffin' with her nose all sore/ Doctor said he won't sell her no more/ Coke is for horses not women or men/ he say it's gonna kill her but he don't say when/ so we wait a while and whiff our good cocaine) but fairly indicative of the REAL ragtime which does not get recycled on soundtracks.
 
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In looking through my 1914 songbook for "Watch Your Step" I have noted the lines of another popular tune, "When I Discovered You." As they reflect the time so well, and because there is a curious reference to ocean travel, I quote them here:

"History proves since the world first began
Wonderful things have been discovered by man
Though to discover has not been my plan
I'm a discoverer, too
Though I know my name
Won't be known to fame
This much is true
Columbus discovered America
Hudson discovered New York
Benjamin Franklin discovered the spark
That Edison discovered would light up the dark
Marconi discovered the wireless telegraph
Across the ocean blue
But the greatest discovery
Was when you discovered me
And I discovered you."

This being an increasingly feminist age, there are also these lines:

"History proves since the world first began
Everything great was NOT discovered by man
Girls can discover what men never can
I'm a discoverer, too."

I can imagine Lady Mackworth humming along to that!
 

Jim Kalafus

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Randy- I like to think she sang a certain Lucille Bogan aka Bessie Jackson tune during those quiet moments on board
happy.gif
 

Jim Kalafus

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WALTZES PERFORMED ON LUSITANIA - this is from a scrapbook compiled on the next to final completed crossing, so unless a "survivor" from the April crossing emerges this is as close to the "final" songlisting as can be had:

The Merry Widow
Vision of Salome.
Rosenkavalier
Valse Septembre
Songe d'Automne
Passing Clouds
Swing Song
Reve d'Artiste
Quaker Girl
Saints and Sinners.
In The Moonlight

CAKE WALKS
Alexander's Ragtime Band
Ghosts
Red Wing
The Bogey Walk
Paris a New York
Buffalo Bill's Farewell
A Bunch of Roses
The Rooster Strut
Slavery Days
Yip-i-addy-i-ay
Oh You Beautiful Doll
Moonlight Bay

and the ghastly number from the Clifton Webb version of Titanic:

Oh, That Navajo Rag.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Jim, you mean "That Navajo Rag" really was a song from that day? I always thought that it was a 1953 send-up of ragtime.

As to Lady Mackworth singing that tune of Bogan's - all I can say is you know something about her that I sure didn't!
 

Jim Kalafus

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I thought that, too, but as of 1915- actually the voyage Caroline Kennedy was on now that I check the date- something by that title was being played aboard the Lusitania. Maybe, like the regrettable rendition of Under The Bamboo Tree in Meet Me In St. Louis, the Navajo Rag thing in Titanic was a very loose adaptation.

There's a little Lucille Bogan in everyone, I guess.
 
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