White-winged schooners once dominated commerce and culture on the Great Lakes, and songs relieved the hours on board, but that way of life and its music ended when steam-driven mechanical boats swept schooners from the inland seas. Recognizing in the late 1930s, almost too late, that this rich oral tradition was going to the grave along with the last generation of schoonermen, Ivan H. Walton undertook a quest to save the songs of the Great Lakes sailors. Racing time and its ravages, he searched out ancient mariners in lakefront hospitals, hangouts, and watering holes. Walton reconstructed songs from one of the most colorful periods in American history, discovering melodies and lyrics to more than a hundred songs. With its stories, lyrics, musical scores by folksinger/historian Lee Murdock, and accompanying CD, Windjammers ensures that sailing chanteys that have t been heard for over one hundred years can be heard again and again far into the future.
Joe Grimm is recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press. He is also the author of Michigan Voices: Our State's History in the Words of the People Who Lived It (Wayne State University Press, 1987).