Sometimes a collector finds interesting links across time. This is a piece of sheet music which was published by the prominent New York based music producers Leo Feist in 1913. The song “He’s on a boat that sailed last Wednesday” appears to have specifically commissioned by the Cunard Steamship Company to promote R.M.S. Mauretania. By the beginning of the First World War, Leo Feist were one of the seven largest music firms in the world and part of New York’s famous “Tin Pan Alley” collection of music producers and songwriters who dominated the popular music scene from the 1880s until the late 1930s.
There is very little explicit information about how this piece came about but we can infer some details from the working practices of Tin Pan Alley music at the time. Companies such as Leo Feist normally purchased music from aspiring songwriters who came to the company to demonstrate pieces that they wished to sell. Publishers also kept a commission of decent songwriters who they could approach for music directly. It is possible either that this piece was (i) sold to the company independently who saw its marketing potential for Cunard, or (ii) specifically written upon commission of the shipping line.
The second option seems more likely to me given that the lyrics of the song seem to refer indirectly to the R.M.S. Mauretania in the line; “He’s on a five day greyhound traveling fast”. At the time, the Mauretania held the unofficial “Blue Riband” title for the fastest transatlantic crossing. Only she and her elder sister R.M.S. Lusitania would be candidates for the reference of these lyrics. It is also copyrighted “by courtesy of the Cunard Steamship Co. Ltd.” which suggests some right of ownership to the piece.
Songwriter Joe Goodwin is not a well-known name, likely one of the many modestly successful writers of popular songs which New York publishers could rely upon. He was born on 6 June 1889 in Worcester, MA and died on 31 July 1943 in The Bronx, New York. Although he wrote a number of songs pre-WWI, it was not until the late 1920s and early 1930s that his writing became more prolific.
Lew Brown is better known although arguably not nearly as widely as he deserves to be. Brown began composing songs for Tin pan Alley in 1912. Like Goodwin, this little commission piece was probably one of his first songs - a daily-bread piece of work with little significance to his future career. From 1921 to 1935, Brown was part of a successful song-writing trio along with Buddy DeSylva and Ray Henderson. After this, he went on to write for Broadway and Hollywood. His works include some of the most popular songs of the era including “Button Up Your Overcoat”, sung by Ruth Etting, and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”. The latter became popularised by Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters who are frequently mistaken to be its original creators.
This little pre-war piece establishes a quant link between the two eras of Mauretania's career, written in her pre-war days by a songwriter who would become responsible for some of the most popular music heard during the "Cabin Liners" era of the late 1920s and early 1930s.