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Sea Chanteys Go Digital

Sea chanteys are no longer just for the old salts. The brave new world of doing everything virtually has brought them to Gen Z. According to Thrillist, an email entertainment newsletter you can subscribe to, “Sea shanties are taking over the internet. It’s definitely weird! … Sea shanties are the latest musical craze to emerge from the wells of TikTok,” wrote Esther Zuckerman. “All the kids these days are jamming out to 19th century whaling tunes.”

Young sailors with accordion in old-time photo
This group doesn’t qualify as ‘old salts’.
© 2021 San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park's Maritime Research Center Archives

Back in the pre-COVID world, park ranger Peter Kasin led a chantey sing aboard the historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco on the first Saturday of every month.

singers aboard historic ferryboat
Ranger Kasin hosted sea chanteys aboard the C.A. Thayer, Balclutha and most recently, the historic ferry Eureka. Plenty of kids enjoyed this in-person event.
© 2021 San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

The San Francisco Maritime Association has recently hosted some virtual chantey sings, but we don’t learn about them in time to get them in Latitude’s Calendar. You can, however, listen to the most recent one, held on January 16, at https://givebutter.com/chanteysing. Donations go toward technology upgrades to support more virtual events. The faces of participants do show diverse generations.

You can dig into the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s sea chantey archives at www.nps.gov/safr/learn/historyculture/chantey-pathfinder.htm.

The Northwest Seaport in Seattle also hosts monthly chantey sings. The next will be on Friday, February 12, online via Zoom.

(We prefer the ‘chantey’ spelling. Chanter, pronounced shawn-TAY, is French for ‘to sing’, while a shanty is a sort of shack.)

2 Comments

  1. Tim Henry
    Tim Henry 3 months ago

    Great story, Chris. And thanks for the etymology of “chantey/shanty!” (I look forward to misspelling this word in the pages of Latitude in the weeks to come. Lol.)

    I first heard about sea chantey’s ascendence into the mainstream last week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “People who watch this show might know that I enjoy sailing,” said South Carolinian Colbert, whose credentials include a few offshore races on the East Coast, including the 2011 Charleston to Bermuda Race. (Oh yeah, and Colbert sailed with Jimmy Spithill on Oracle Team USA’s AC45 catamaran in New York in 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3B2qC4tigE)

    Anyway, last week, Colbert sang a few lines from ‘Soon May the Wellerman Come’, the New Zealand chantey which seems to be dominating on Tiktok. Here’s a taste:

    There was a ship that put to sea,
    And the name of the ship was the Billy of Tea
    The winds blew up, her bow dipped down,
    Oh blow, my bully boys, blow.

    Soon may the Wellerman come
    And bring us sugar and tea and rum.
    One day, when the tonguing is done,
    I’ll take my leave and go.

    Colbert’s band leader, jazz legend John Batiste, even got in on the Chantey action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll-_LV9U1tA

  2. Christine Weaver
    Christine Weaver 3 months ago

    The next sea chantey sing led by Park Ranger Peter Kasin will be held on Saturday, February 20, 2021 at 12 noon. See https://maritime.org/events-home/chantey-sing.

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