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Musical Heroes Wallace Hartley and the Titanic Band

Updated on December 16, 2014
photo  by Lanky Lad, and is used by special permission.
photo by Lanky Lad, and is used by special permission. | Source

The Ship's Musicians Played as Titanic Sank

Yes, it's true that the Titanic's band played as the great ocean liner was sinking.

Bandmaster Wallace Hartley, just 33, and the other seven musicians knew full well that they were doomed. By all accounts, not a one of them ever even donned a life jacket.

We'll never know what was in their minds, nor will we know exactly what music they played. But play they did. And played, and played.

Wallace Hartley was their leader, bandmaster on the Titanic.

At first, they played upbeat tunes in the first class lounge. Later, they moved out on deck and played as passengers desperately tried to escape. Finally, they played one last song, and shortly after . . . they were gone forever.

Monument to Wallace Hartley

Photo by LankyLad of CruiseLineFans

R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg

the night of April 14, 1912 and

sank to the sea floor in the

wee hours of April 15, 1912

All eight musicians perished

Wallace-Hartley-Monument | Source

Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster


Wallace Hartley grew up in Colne, Lancashire, and developed a love of music as a boy. He was a church choirboy under the direction of his choirmaster father, and studied violin early on.

He was an accomplished violinist, having been first violinist in a municipal orchestra before signing on with the Cunard Line, where played first on the Lucania, and then the Lusitania. He must have been making a name for himself, as he was promoted to bandmaster of the famous Mauretania in the fall of 1910.

Then, at age 33, he was appointed bandmaster for the maiden voyage of White Star's brand new, luxurious RMS Titanic, where he would play his last song ever.

News Flash!

Wallace Hartley's Violin FOUND!

A violin found with Wallace Hartley's body was confirmed as being the one he played as the Titanic Sank.

It sold at auction for a record 1.7 Million dollars!

A Hymn for Eternity: - The Story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster

Now Available! Publication Date: April 1, 2012

The story of Wallace Hartley and his band playing as the ship sank is one of the most amazingly poignent true vignettes from the sinking of the Titanic. Yet, little has been known about Hartley and his mates.

Author Yvonne Carroll is about to change that, after years of research into the lives of the head violinist and the other musicians.

A Hymn for Eternity: The Story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster
A Hymn for Eternity: The Story of Wallace Hartley, Titanic Bandmaster

This book promises to tell the story of one of the great heroes of the Titanic tragedy. And, it is set to debut just days before the 100th anniversary of the fateful event.

Titanic-Musicians-Memorial | Source

The Titanic Musicians Monument

Southampton, United Kingdom

The orchestra members contracted to play on board the RMS Titanic were all hand picked by bandmaster Wallace Hartley. . Some had been members of military bands. Some had played on other ocean liners. All were first rate musicians

The valor, self-discipline, and composure they displayed that night was nothing short of extrordinary. Their names are etched on the RMS Titanic Musician's Memorial, in Southampton.


Wallace Hartley - bandmaster, violin

Roger Marie Bricoux, cello

Theodore Ronald Brailey, piano

John Wesley Woodward, cello

John Frederick Preston Clarke, string bass and viola

John Law Hume, violin

Percy Cornelius Taylor, piano

Georges Alexandré Krins, violin

The Heroic Musicians - of the Titanic

Published in 1912 by the Amalgated Musicians Union
Published in 1912 by the Amalgated Musicians Union | Source

What did the Band Play

as the Titanic was Sinking?

What Music Did The Titanic Musicians Play?

We'll never know for sure.

But researchers have pieced together some very good probabilities. They've based their assumptions on remarks of survivors, playlists from the White Star Line, the likely reprotoires of the musicians, and the popular tunes of the day.

At first, the band was roused from their slumber, and ordered to play tunes to keep the First Class passengers entertained and calmed. They most likely played upbeat tunes - perhaps including Irving Berlin and other ragtime tunes - which were popular at the time.

A female passenger departing in a lifeboat is reported to have seen men near the railing, smoking cigarettes and tapping their toes to the band's music.

Music from a Historic Time - Titanic Music

Music played by, and that might have been played by the band on the great ocean liner.

Hero Musicians?

Do you think the Titanic Musicians were heroic?

See results
(Used by permission of photo's owner)
(Used by permission of photo's owner) | Source

The Band's Last Number

on the Boat Deck of the Titanic

At some point, the lounge had mostly emptied of passengers, and the band moved eventually out onto the boat deck, though some reports have them playing for a time in another location before relocating outside.

Even after their leader released them to "save yourselves," the band members saw that Hartley was continuing to play, and so did they. The valiant orchestra continued playing until they could no longer stand.

The last song? It's uncertain, but may be one of three, each of which was reported by various passengers as their final number:

Nearer, My God, to Thee - Tune: Propior Deo

Nearer, My God, to Thee - Tune: Bethany

"Autumn" - Songe d'Automne

Nearer, My God, to Thee

One of two tunes:

Propior Deo or Bethany

Nearer, My God, to Thee - (Propior Deo) - From "A Night to Remember" (1958)

A number of sources report that musicians who had played with Hartley in the past said he had actually told them that, were he every to find himself aboard a sinking ship, he would play one of two songs: Either "Nearer, My God, to Thee" or "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

This is the version the bandmaster favored, and the one his family feels must have been played

Nearer, My God, to Thee (Bethany Melody) - From the 1997 movie Titanic.

A number of American passengers also reported hearing "Nearer, My God, to Thee" being played at the last. However, they would have recognized the music Bethany, which was the tune to which the hymn was sung in the States.

Autumn - Songe d'Automne

Autumn - Song of Autumn or Dream of Autumn

Titanic's junior wireless operator, Harold Bride, reported that the final tune played was "Autumn." It is now thought that he referred to Song of Autumn, or Dream of Autumn, popular at the time. Bride died in 1956.

Which Song Do You Think Was the Last One?

Which song do you believe was the last one the Titanic Band played?

See results
(public domain)
(public domain) | Source

Heroes Then, Heroes Still

In the Eyes of Many

The musicians of the Titanic were widely hailed as heroes in the days after the sinking of the great ocean liner. Their extraordinary actions that night inspired others facing grave danger. Their story inspires us still.

It would be two weeks before Hartley's body was recovered... still in his green band uniform.

A thousand people crowded into a chapel meant for 700 for his funeral, and a reported 30,000 to 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession, which was led by no less than seven bands.

Though not all of the eight band members' bodies were recovered, all were revered as heroes, and given farewell ceremonies befitting such.

Titanic Survivors

were rescued by

Captain Rostron of RMS Carpathia

Read More about the Titanic Musicians

You may find interesting reading about the last moments of the Titanic and her musicians who went down with the ship in some of the these articles I found in doing background research and fact checking for this page.

What do you think of the brave musicians of the Titanic?

If you have no thoughts about that, then please stay long enough to say hello, OK?

The Guestbook Is: OPEN

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    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      To have the courage to continue playing and not panic is indeed heroic. What a wonderful tribute lens.

    • profile image

      Anna2of5 5 years ago

      Lovely Lens. The music selections you found helped. I'd like to think they were playing Nearer to Thee as a prayer and a farewell. That one seems to fit such an end. I've found many brave souls who are musicians. i am married to one. he plays Trombone, and sings Baritone. he can read music. I merely memorize by practice for singing and its been years since I played Tympani. Still I know quite a few musicians, they are all beautiful people. Thank you for the lovely lens.

      Sincerely, Anna2of5

    • profile image

      Karen1960 5 years ago

      All brave men indeed. The story of violinist John Hume is especially poignant - he was only 21, and died not knowing that his fiancée was expecting his child. His father tried to block her getting any money from the fund that was set up for relatives, but fortunately he didn't succeed.

    • MelonyVaughan profile image

      MelonyVaughan 5 years ago

      What a beautiful lens! I can only imagine how much strength of character it took for the musicians to keep playing whike the ship was sinking.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      A hundred years later, we still give tribute to the hero's of the Titanic's brave band with a tear, how tenderly and beautifully presented by you...and another angel stopping to bless labor of love...*

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      A lovely tribute to this brave group of musicians. Disaster sometime brings out the best in people. Angel blessings!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      I always found their story to be one of the most interesting on the Titanic tale. Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 6 years ago

      What great history.

    • BenJacklin LM profile image

      BenJacklin LM 6 years ago

      Great lens, super info and a tale I'd never heard!

    • ronaldpakasi profile image

      ronaldpakasi 6 years ago

      An inspiring and touching tribute for the heroes.... thank you for sharing! Love it!

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 6 years ago

      It's amazing how they kept on playing, trying to calm people down. I am sure it helped, music has that kind of effect on us.

    • SophiaStar LM profile image

      SophiaStar LM 6 years ago

      A wonderful tribute to a brave group of musicians. I can only imagine how their music must have provided comfort to those aboard Titanic.

    • linhah lm profile image

      Linda Hahn 6 years ago from California

      Chills up and down my back!

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      The bravest band of all. Blessed.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I agree that this should be LOTD on April 14th, 2012. The bravery shown by these musicians is unparalleled in the history of music. Thank you for sharing. Blessed.

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 6 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      I agree with the reader who says this should be LOTD on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titantic April 2012.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Excellent lens, I remember the scenes of the band playing on as the ship sank when I watched A Night To Remember as a young teenager, and it really moved me. Blessed, and featured on my Titanic Movies lens.

    • profile image

      cruiselinefans 6 years ago

      Amazing - I always learn so much for your lenses. Hartley and his musicians surely made their mark on history. I never knew there was such controversy about the last song played. Thanks for posting!

    • pacrapacma lm profile image

      pacrapacma lm 6 years ago

      This is a super lens! It should be LOTD this April 14th since it's the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

    • profile image

      nealberk 6 years ago

      Very nice.

      What is a true hero? One who does his job and instills courage and the best in others. The band members had that and should be remembered and honored.

    • profile image

      Lindrus 6 years ago

      Thanks for an interesting lens! Nice to read about courage and valour.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Wow! This is a really inspiring tale of courage and fortitude! These guys are real heroes and what a nice and thoughtful tribute!?

    • APackageAtTheDoor profile image

      APackageAtTheDoor 6 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this, really interesting stuff.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 6 years ago

      Very interesting lens and well done. Thanks for putting this together.

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 6 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Doesn't sound anything like the latest shipwreck, does it? Nice lens.