Connected \\ March 26, 2021
PEMcast 21, Part 1: The sea shanty craze
This winter’s warm embrace of sea shanties on TikTok and other social media has delighted us here at PEM. Founded in 1799 by the members of the East India Marine Society, the sea shanty craze never ends here.
David Coffin and his daughter Linnea lead a group of 1,000 people on a Facebook Live shanty singalong. Photo by Dinah Cardin.
For this episode of the PEMcast, we speak with David Coffin, a master shanty man, Artist-in-Residence with the esteemed Revels performance theater group and educator of maritime life. He lives right up the coast from Salem in Gloucester and is an 11th generation Coffin, from the whaling Coffins of Nantucket.
In February, he hosted a Facebook Live event, where nearly 1,000 people tuned in. Social media has been very good to David during the pandemic. He’s been performing concerts on Zoom and uploading videos that go viral.
A screenshot of Facebook Live singers seeking camaraderie with their cameras on. Photo by Dinah Cardin
We look into the origins of sea shanties as work songs that help sailors do grueling work at sea. These songs go back to enslaved people working in fields. David also cleared up for us that he prefers chanties over shanties, from the French word for song, chanson.
We also meet with Mary Malloy who taught sea shanties on voyages at Sea Semester out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and has been singing them with her maritime music expert husband for 40 years.
Photo by Dinah Cardin
Next, we go straight to the source and look at books of shanties, sheet music and ship’s logs in our Phillips Library with Director Dan Lipcan. We geek out on the accompanying artwork in these books and on the watercolor paintings in the logs.
Photo by Dinah Cardin
Being a native of Cape Cod, Lipcan finds a song he particularly likes.
Cape Cod boys, they have no sleds.
They slide down dunes on codfish heads.
Cape Cod doctors, they have no pills.
They give their patients cod fish gills.
Cape Cod cats, they have no tails.
Heave away, heave away...
Dan Lipcan in PEM’s Phillips Library. Photo by Dinah Cardin.