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"The Titanic"
Written1915 or 1916
GenreAmerican folk music
Songwriter(s)William and Versey Smith

"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. "The Titanic" is about the sinking of RMS Titanic which sank on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg.



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."


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.[citation needed]


  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 Archived 2012-05-18 at the Wayback Machine, page 50 (1952). (accessed 7 October 2014)
  5. ^ "Home". The Arhoolie Foundation. Retrieved 30 May 2021.

Works cited