THE TITANIC (SETH NEWTON MIZE/MRS. JAMES K. NASH) (1951)


Crowd awaiting the arrival of survivors, Apr. 18, 1912.

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Lyric as collected and transcribed by George W. Boswell from Mrs. James K. Nash, Hickman County, TN, Jun 21, 1951;
published in W. K. McNeil (ed.), Southern Folk Ballads, Vol. II, Little Rock, AK, 1988, pp. 105-106.
The... text was collected June 21, 1951, by George W. Boswell from the singing of Mrs. James K. Nash of Hickman County, Tennessee. She probably learned the ballad from the singing of her mother, Ollie Palestine Smith Stevens, who was born in 1873.

The... text is a version of the only Titanic ballad that can be traced to a specific songwriter; it was written several years after the tragedy by a native of Searcy County, Arkansas. Seth Newton Mize (1901-1977) began playing the fiddle and guitar at age fifteen and performed on both instruments for the rest of his life....
Mize also tried his hand at writing songs, and although his output wasn't prolific he succeeded in accomplishing something few persons live to see. That is, he wrote songs that actually entered oral tradition and became folksongs during his lifetime. One of these was called "After the Sinking of the Titanic" or just "The Titanic" and was recorded on a number of occasions by country artists such as Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarlton (although that version was not released until several years after its recording) and the Carter Family. None of these recordings was what could be called a big hit but they undoubtedly helped spread the ballad.

Just when Mize wrote his Titanic ballad is uncertain but it seems unlikely that it was composed prior to 1916 when he started playing music. Possibly it was as late as the early 1920s, but whatever the date it is certain that the song got into oral tradition and away from Mize. This is attested to both by the various commercial recordings, all of which vary from each other lyrically, and by the failure of the record companies to list Mize as the song's creator. There is, of course, the possibility that lack of acknowledgment was merely to avoid paying royalties, but, since record companies were usually quite good about checking out ownership of copyrights, it seems more likely that the performers simply didn't know who had written the ballad.

W. K. McNeil, ibid., p. 107.

As the moon rose in glory,
Drifting to the golden west,
She told her sad, sad story:
Sixteen hundred have gone to rest.

The watchman was lying down dreaming,
Yes, dreaming a sad, sad dream;
He dreamed the Titanic was sinking
Far out on the deep blue sea.

He woke and called the rich man,
Told him to come to life;
Told him to save his baby
And also his darling wife.

The rich man, he must have been drinking.
Knowing that he had done wrong,
He tried to win the record
And let the Titanic go down.

When he spied the Titanic was sinking
They fell down upon their knees
And cried, "Oh, Lord, have mercy!
And what will become of me?"

The band was out there playing,
Yes, playing out on the sea.
When they spied the Titanic was sinking
Played "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

When the sad news reached the landing
That the Titanic had gone down.
Many a poor widow and orphan
Was walking all over the town.

The little children were crying
"Oh, Mama has gone to stay."
But surely they will invent something
That will weigh the Titanic some day.

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