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The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic

Who were the eight brave men who calmly and courageously played on until the very end?

By / March 31, 2011

The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic By Steve Turner Thomas Nelson 272 pp.

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April 15, 2012, will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the world’s largest – and supposedly the safest – passenger ship of its time. You can be sure that the centennial will trigger a landslide of books on the subject. Less certain is how many will find anything new to say.

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But here is at least one – an early comer to the race – that has already succeeded on that count. The Band that Played On by Steve Turner is, surprisingly, the first book since the great ship went down to examine the lives of the eight musicians who were employed by the Titanic. What these men did – standing calmly on deck playing throughout the disaster – achieved global recognition. But their individual stories, until now, have been largely unknown. What Turner has uncovered is a narrow but unique slice of history – one more chapter of compelling Titanic lore.

Turner, a music journalist, pursued living relatives of the band members and squeezed all that he could out of “inherited photographs, documents, and anecdotes” enabling him to sketch brief but poignant portraits of eight young (or at least youngish) men, all born in an optimistic era and all members of the rising middle class. To their parents, their girlfriends, and surely to themselves as well, the future must have seemed bright right up until the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.

There were actually two separate bands working on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. One was a quintet, a “saloon orchestra.” The other was a trio, intended to serve as a “deck band.”

The eight men almost certainly never played as one group until the night the ship sank when – many believe – the quintet’s leader Wallace Hartley had the idea to bring them together to perform their fabled final gig.

Of the eight men, five were English, one was French, one Belgian, and one a Scot. Three of them had never been to sea before but most of the others were experienced ships’ musicians. (Two had even been working on board the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, the night one year earlier when that ship collided with another ocean liner but did not sink.)

Only one of the band members was married and none had children but several had girlfriends – including the young Scot, Jock Hume, described as “the liveliest, cheekiest member of the band,” who left behind a young woman pregnant with his baby. (The two had expected to marry upon his return.)

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