Brass bands, icebergs and jazz: the first fifty years of music on passenger ships (1889-1939)

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Publication details

Cashman, D 2013, 'Brass bands, icebergs and jazz: the first fifty years of music on passenger ships (1889-1939)', paper presented to Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns: Colloquium 1, London, UK, 8 February.


Musicians have been employed by shipping lines to entertain passengers on long sea days aboard steamships for well over a century. This vocation continues to provide many music graduates the option to earn a living for a few years while seeing the world aboard a modern cruise ship. Despite this heritage, almost no research has been conducted into the history of music on passenger shipping. As a move towards addressing this lacuna, this paper provides a general overview of the first fifty years of shipboard musical performance. Beginning with the first steward-musicians of the Norddeutcher Lloyd Line, the paper charts the major changes in commodified musical performance during the golden age of passenger shipping, finishing with the outbreak of World War 2 and the postwar development of the jet airliner. Shipboard musical performance of the time reflected the contemporary tastes of high society and and, while often conservative in its reflection of land-based popular culture, was at the cutting edge of entertainment technology of the time. Shipboard musical performances are found to have changed in response to passengers demands for increasing luxury and sophistication while they travel. Modern cruise musicians face many of the same problems and demands as their forerunners. Only through study of their predecessors, however, can the role and job of these musicians—as well as cruise ship music and commodifed touristic music in general—be understood and contextualised.