Chantey Singing in San Francisco
For over thirty years sea music enthusiasts have gathered on the historic ships C. A. Thayer
to sing chanteys and other sea songs. This free event, which takes place the first Saturday of every month, has garnered a loyal following, drawing 80 to 200 people monthly.
Listen to a four minute audio file about sea chanteys.
(MP3, 04:17, 3.9MB)
During the golden age of chanteying, 1840-1860, the work songs of sailors were used aboard ship to help coordinate shipboard jobs. Jobs such as hauling on lines to raise sails, turning the capstan (an iron winch) to weigh (raise) anchor and manning the ship's pumps required sailors to work together in rhythm.
Influenced by Irish, Scottish, English, French, African American and West Indian traditions, chanteys also served to lift spirits during this often monotonous and back-breaking work. The songs were sung by call and response: a chanteyman sang verses and the crew responded with the chorus between each verse. The work was performed while singing the choruses. The chanteyman's verses gave the crew a few seconds to rest.
There are chanteys that tell of San Francisco and its dangerous "Barbary Coast," one of the most infamous of all port cities. California history comes alive in chanteys warning sailors to steer clear of notorious San Francisco crimps Shanghai Brown and Larry Marr, who ran saloons and kidnapped many men to crew ships.
California-based chanteys describe life aboard "hell ships," the dangers of rounding Cape Horn, cruel ship officers, the joys and curse of drink and hopes for riches during the gold rush.
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