The 1912 winter concert season in the Liverpool, England area was winding down and bass violist John Frederick Clarke – known to everybody as Fred - knew there would be fewer opportunities for work until the summer season began. When the chance came to go to sea as one of eight musician in the Titanic orchestra, he decided a brief interlude in his music career would be a nice change of pace. His hope was to learn from the Titanic experience and then to return for a new musical season back home.
Fred was born in 1883, the son of a 17-year-old father named John Robert Clarke and his 22-year-old wife, Ellen. Two daughters later, John deserted the family and, as the story goes, fled to America. Little Fred was farmed-out to his dad’s parents while his mother and sisters moved in with his Aunt Mary in Liverpool.
His uncle, Vasco Akeroyd, an accomplished violinist and music teacher, had set Fred on a musical path soon after the turn of the century. When Uncle Vasco founded his own Symphony Orchestra in 1909, Fred became one of his six bass players. On board Titanic, Fred was part of quintet that entertained in the first-class lounge and dining saloon, performing selections from the White Star Line songbook that ranged from classical to ragtime. Here, they were to be listened to, not watched, and were as anonymous to passengers as waiters were to those they served.
On the fifth day out their anonymity was breached when an iceberg creased Titanic’s side, and the world saw them for who they were – eight heroic musicians who sacrificed their lives playing for a doomed audience embarking on their final journey.
Only three of Titanic band members’ bodies were recovered, 28-year-old Fred Clarke’s was among them. Personal effects found with him included a diamond pin, gold watch, keys, knife, sovereign case, pocket book, memo book, 8 shillings and a gold ring. He was wearing a crucifix.
Eight Titanic musicians, eight amazing personal stories to tell, all part of The Year of the Titanic Musicians’ tribute you’ll experience in 2014 at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson, Missouri.