The Titanic band leader Wallace Hartley had been the bandleader on many rival cruise liners such as the Lusitania and Mauretania, and was lured to the majesty of the largest cruise vessel in the world. The appeal of performing in front of the most distinguished passengers in the world as well as the pay raise involved was simply too much to pass up for Hartley and his band members.
Traveling as second glass passengers, the band was not on the White Star Line’s payroll, but contracted by Messrs. C.W. & F.N. Black of Liverpool. White Star had paid the agents, but the food and lodging for the band were outstanding. The band as well as Hartley ate in the Second Class Dining Room. Referred to as the band or the orchestra, the two were entirely separate from each others. Wallace Hartley’s quintet played after tea time, after dinner concerts, and Sunday service, while a trio of violin, cello, and piano played the reception room outside the A la Carte Restaurant and the Café Parisien. The trio who played outside the café included French cellist Roger Marie Bricoux and Belgian violinist George Krins.
All of the musicians aboard the Titanic became famous on the night of April 14, 1912 when they continued to play during the sinking of the Titanic. As the lifeboats had begun to be loaded, Hartley assembled his band in the First Class Lounge and began to play. Playing ragtime, waltzes, and specific tunes that survivors reported to be ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ and ‘In The Shadows’ have been mentioned, and it’s not quite clear what the absolute last song played on the Titanic was. Many believe that the last song to be played on the Titanic was “Nearer, My God, to Thee” a Christian hymn written by Sara Flower Adams. Many individuals interested in Titanic history believe that it’s not important what they played, but the fact that they played as the ship was sinking. All 8 musicians were lost during the sinking of the Titanic.
Almost two weeks after the Titanic disaster, Wallace Hartley’s body was recovered from the Atlantic still wearing his bandsman’s uniform and strapped with a music box. His body arrived in Liverpool on May 12 aboard the White Star liner Arabic and his coffin was loaded onto a horse-drawn hearse on the journey back to his hometown of Colne. Hartley was buried in a small cemetery on the edge of Colne and an orchestra played “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. The music of the hymn as well as a violin is carved into his gravestone.
For the rest of the musicians, a plaque is on display at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall which was unveiled on November 4th, 1912. The plaque reads:
This Tablet is Dedicated to the Memory of
W. Hartley of Dewsbury
W.T. Brailey of London
R. Bricoux of Lille, France
J.F. Clarke of Liverpool
J.L. Hume of Dumfries
G. Krins of Liege, Belgium
P.C. Tailor of London
J.W. Woodward of Headington
“Members of the band on board the Titanic; they bravely continued playing to soothe the anguish of their fellow passengers until the ship sank in the deep April 14th, 1912. Courage and compassion joined make the hero and the man complete.”