In the summer of 1995, a group of lovers of the music of the sea got together on the deck of the windjammer Peking at the South Street Seaport Museum on the East River in New York to sing sea shanties. Now 20 years later, many of the same singers along with a whole new crew will be celebrating the anniversary of that shanty sing this Sunday between 2PM and 5PM at their new home at the the Noble Maritime Collection at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island. If you are anywhere near New York harbor, it should be a special afternoon. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, but will be there in spirit. From the Noble Maritime press release:
Sponsored by the Folk Music Society of New York, whose members organize monthly sessions at the Noble Maritime Collection, the singing begins at 2 PM and continues until 5 PM. The museum is open by donation, and visitors are welcome to come and listen or sing along with the group.
Liverpudlian Hughie Jones, founder of the group The Spinners, will join the session this month. He was present at the first sea chantey session held aboard the Peking at South Street Seaport Museum in the summer of 1995.
The sessions, held on the third Sunday of each month at the Noble Maritime Collection, are dedicated to “the dean of music scholars,” William Main Doerflinger (1910-2000), who was born on Staten Island and recorded and transcribed hundreds of songs taught to him by the residents of Sailors Snug Harbor.
Sailors’ Snug Harbor, the famous home for mariners, operated the 80-acre refuge on Staten Island’s North Shore that provided medical and retirement care to thousands of mariners from across the globe.
The group has named the gathering the William Main Doerflinger Memorial Sea Shanty Session, in his honor and will henceforth refer to it by that name. Doerflinger, who grew up on Bard Avenue, Staten Island, compiled the definitive anthology of sea shanties, Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman. He frequented Sailors’ Snug Harbor and became friendly with many of the residents, who shared their music with him.
Group organizer Bob Wright commented, “Like most Americans, the mariners who came to Sailors’ Snug Harbor were immigrants, but unlike most immigrants, they left home at a young age and only dimly remembered their home country.
“They were sailors—a different kind of immigrant—and they found their common language in song. They may have been born in England, France, or Africa, but until they came ashore to Sailors’ Snug Harbor, the sea was their home.”
The Noble Maritime Collection is a maritime museum and study center located on the grounds of the former home for mariners, Sailors’ Snug Harbor. The museum is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays from 1 until 5 PM. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
The museum’s public programs are supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.