Titanic (III), The ("God Moves on the Water") (Titanic #3)
DESCRIPTION: The story of the Titanic. The women have to watch their husbands drown. Captain Smith awakens to gunshots. Millionaire Jacob Nash cannot pay his fare (to survive). Chorus: "God moves on the water (x3) And the people had to run and pray.
AUTHOR: Blind Willie Johnson?
EARLIEST DATE: 1929 (recording, Blind Willie Johnson)
KEYWORDS: death ship wreck disaster religious
April 14/15, 1912 - Shortly before midnight, ship's time, the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. Only 711 survivors are found of 2224 people believed to have been aboard.
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Lomax-Singing, pp. 26-27, "God Moves on the Water" (1 text, 1 tune)
Courlander-NFM, pp. 76-77, "(God Moves on the Water)" (1 text)
BrownII 287, "The Titanic" (5 texts plus an excerpt and mention of 2 more. The Laws data for this book is badly confused, but the "H" text is this song; "C" and "D" are "The Titanic (I)," and apparently the "E" fragment also; "A" and "B" are broadsides Laws does not classify (The first clearly based on "The Golden Vanity"; the second seems to be an adaption of this song to "There Will Be a Hot Time"))
BrownSchinhanIV 287, "The TItanic" (4 exceprts, 4 tunes, with "B" being presumably the same as Brown's "B" broadsiide, ""D" and "E" being "Titanic (I) 'It Was Sad When THat Great Ship Went Down'," and "H" being "God Moves on the Water")
ADDITIONAL: Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, p. 403, "God Move on the Water" (1 text)
Blind Willie Johnson, "God Moves on the Water" (Columbia 14520-D, 1930; rec. 1929; on BWJ02, CGospel1)
Bessie Jones et al, "The Titanic" (on LomaxCD1700, LomaxCD1708)
cf. all the other Titanic songs (plot)
cf. "Miami Hairikin" (form, lyrics)
NOTES: This song is item dI27 in Laws's Appendix II. It should probably be given a proper entry, though; it seems to be the most popular of the Titanic songs except for "The Titanic (I) ('It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down')" [Laws D24].
The statement 'God moves on the water" is probably an allusion to Genesis 1:2, where "the spirit of God moved on the face of the water" ("ocean" or "abyss" might be a better translation there, but of course what matters is what the King James Bible says).
Lyle Lofgren makes the interesting observation that the oldest known version, Blind Willie Johnson's, does not actually use the phrase "God moves on the water." He lets the guitar play the phrase "on the water." Lyle speculates that that there may have been an older gospel song which would have let listeners know the missing phrase. This seems not impossible (perhaps "Wade in the Water" -- there are some similarities in the tunes I have heard). But the other possibility he suggests is that the song was already well known in 1929, so Johnson didn't need to sing the words. And, indeed, the Lomaxes report collecting it in 1933.
For an extensive history of the Titanic, with detailed examination of the truth (or lack thereof) of quotes in the Titanic songs, see the notes to "The Titanic (XV)" ("On the tenth day of April 1912") (Titanic #15)
The "Jacob Nash" mentioned in the Lomax version and others is almost certainly an error for John Jacob Astor. - RBW
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