What was listed in the White Star Line MUSIC songbook? Part I

If you have ever seen a karaoke list you will be able to picture the music list in the White Star Line songbook. It was a stapled booklet, small enough to carry in your purse or pocket, with a faun-colored card stock cover and off-white inside pages. There were 9 pages of numbers listed.*

The musical selections were set by C. W. & F. N. Black, the agents who hired Titanic’s band. The agency created the list of requests, acquired the arrangements of music and likely also had the songbook printed. They chose music that was recognized and loved by the general public, again, like a karaoke list would be created today. One can see by the titles and composers represented that the public was literate in classics as well as the dance tunes that were popular in 1912.

It is interesting to note which composers made the list, and which did not (both Mozart and Beethoven were absent). The request list was divided into categories, beginning with opera. Overtures covered numbers 1 to 15, with Rossini (six numbers), Herold, Auber, Suppè (three numbers), Thomas, Flotou (?), Paer and Balfe. Today’s public audience would recognize only Rossini, but at the time these numbers were chosen because they were universal favorites.

The next category, Selections, 16-80, consisted of operatic numbers and arias. Of the famous composers who made the list, J. Strauss, Offenbach, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet and Sullivan, only two, Saint-Saëns and Puccini, were actually alive in 1912, with most of their productive years behind them. The rest of the listed composers (who may have been alive at the time) have faded to no more than printed names in books like these. Their music is no longer widely known. This follows throughout the rest of the songbook.

In all there were seven categories, some with appended sub-categories:

  1. Overtures (1 – 15)
  2. Selections (16 – 80)
  3. Suites, Fantasias, etc. (81 – 99)
    National Anthems, Hymns &c., of all Nations (unlisted numbers)
  4. Waltzes (100 – 148)
    Gung’l Waltzes (unlisted numbers)
    Strauss Waltzes ( ” ” )
    Waldteufel Waltzes ( ” ” )
  5. Sacred Music (149 – 156)
  6. Entr’actes, Intermezzos, etc. (157 – 279)
  7. Marches, Cake Walks, etc.
    Waldteufel Polkas (unlisted numbers)

It would have been possible for the band to have accepted a request like “262” Boccherini’s Menuet, followed by “280” Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, then a selection like (for example) Comfort ye my people from “152” Handel’s Messiah, followed by “334” Sousa’s Hail, Spirit of Liberty, and so on. Musically speaking, the list shows that the public was knowledgeable across the genres and had eclectic musical taste.

Related Posts


*The replica songbook I obtained from the Titanic Historical Society in Indian Orchard, MA, is believed to have been the one in use at the time Titanic sailed.

4 thoughts on “What was listed in the White Star Line MUSIC songbook? Part I

  1. Note from Blog Administrator: This comment by psrus was unable to be posted, possibly because of the links included. I'm posting it with google search words instead. I don't have a link for anything concrete, but I read a lot some websites and I found out that there must be some another songbook treated as the one used on Titanic. That's why:
- many sources says that Songbook contains 352, not 341 titles!
- this site says (The Goofs of A Night To Remember) that number 22 in songbook is Thais. In songbook which you have, and I, number 22 is The Count of Luxembourg, Thais is #30.
- this site says (Titanic-Titanic dot com) that Songe d'Autromne was #114 in songbook, but in our songbook #114 is Sonia by Zulueta – Songe d'Automne is listed as #137!
So I am sure that there is more than one songbook believed to be the one used on Titanic. Unfortunately, I don't know where to search for informations about this. I've send an e-mail to the author of first site for more info, and I am waiting for response. I completely don't know ehere to find for anything about that, and whether the songbook is somewhere to buy. I found some interesting book, I think that maybe here there is something about it: (Ian Whitcomb The Titanic Songbook)


  2. This is a very interesting question. No one really knows which WSL version was used on Titanic. A prominent historian has a version different than mine and when we compared notes he believed mine was the better candidate. I bought the reproduction from the Titanic Historical Society and they have all kinds of people who dig into the details. All of the numbers cited by sourced survivors as having been heard on Titanic are listed in the book I have. Perhaps as time goes by I might collect other versions and devote some time to comparing them. I am unsure whether it is possible to be 100% absolutely certain about any of the WSL Songbooks and which one was used on Titanic. One would have to find the personal effects of a survivor, the songbook having been saved the night of the sinking, to be absolutely sure.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.