Sailor's Hornpipe (1)

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X:1 T:Sailor’s Hornpipe [1] T:College Hornpipe M:C L:1/8 R:Hornpipe B:Harding’s All Round Collection, No. 177 (1905) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Bbmaj B>A|B2 B,2 B,2 F>E|D>F B2 B>dc>B|c2C2C2 c>B|A>cf>=e f2 g>a| b>ag>f g>fe>d|e>dc>B B>AG>F|G>BA>c B>dc>e|d2B2B2:| |:F>E|D>FB>F E>FB>F|G2E2E2 G>F|=E>Gc>G E>Gc>G|A2F2F2 e>d| e2g2 g>fe>d|e>dc>B B>AG>F|G>BA>c B>df>e|d2B2B2:|


SAILOR'S HORNPIPE [1]. AKA and see "College Hornpipe (The)," “Duke William's Hornpipe,” "Jack's the Lad (1)," "Lancashire Hornpipe (1)," "Reel des matelots." English (originally), American; Reel, Hornpipe, or Reel. England, Northumberland. USA; New York, southwestern Pa., West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas. G Major (Most versions): D Major (Sweet): B Flat Major (Hardings, Seattle/Vickers). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Originally titled the "College Hornpipe (The)" this melody became known as the "Sailor's Hornpipe" through its association with the performance of the hornpipe dance, typically performed on the stage in nautical costume (see notes for "College Hornpipe (The)"). At the turn of the 18th century a sailor was a favorite character of the musical stage and the nautical theme became so associated with the dance that many hornpipes were generically labeled a 'sailor's hornpipe'. The dance itself features a distinctive 'side-cutting' step. The style retained its popularity throughout the century, and none-less than J. Scott Skinner, the famous Scottish violinist who was also a dancing master, taught the dance at Elgin and other places to his pupils. George Emerson, in his article on the Hornpipe (Folk Music Journal, vol. 2, No. 1, 1970) finds an early reference:

”at Drury lane, May 1740, Yates ..is .. billed to perform a 'hornpipe in the character of Jacky Tar. There is no mention then or later of anyone performing 'the' or 'a' sailor's hornpipe. It is always a 'hornpipe in the character of a sailor'..”

Curiosly, it is surprising to find that a tune with such strong associations to nautical performance does not appear as "Sailor's Hornpipe" in printed collections until fairly recently. As the "College Hornpipe" the tune was in print in 1797 or 1798 by J. Dale of London, and although the melody predates Dale's publication, the English antiquarian Chappell's editor dates it no earlier than the second half of the 18th century. Emerson suggests the comic ballet The Wapping Landlady (1767) was the source of the Sailor Hornpipe that was famously danced by the American dancer Durang for some twenty years at the end of the 18th century. The ballet featured the trials of Jack Tar ashore, and was choreographed by Arnold Fisher (of “Fisher's Hornpipe” fame). See also note for “College Hornpipe (The)” for more.

"Sailor's Hornpipe" was imported to North America where it entered traditional repertoire and became fairly widely known, still with its nautical connotations--so strong was the association, in fact, that it was selected as the theme song of a popular mid-20th century animated cartoon character, Popeye the Sailorman. Bronner (1987) reports the earliest known printing in the United States was in a publication by B. Carr entitled Evening Entertainments in the year 1796 (under the "College Hornpipe" title). Although the name "Sailor's Hornpipe" has been something of a floating title in the United States, it is probably the 'College' tune under this title which was cited as having commonly been played for country dances in Orange County, New York, in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly). Similarly in American tradition, it was played at a fiddle contest in Verbena, Alabama, in 1921 (as noted in the Union Banner of October 27, 1921), and also in another 1920's contest in Georgia by one R.L. Stephens of Camp Hill, Alabama (according to the Columbus (Ga.) Register of December 10-12, 1926) {Cauthen, 1990}. The title also appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. The late Kentucky fiddler George Lee Hawkins, renowned as a "hornpipe fiddler," played “Sailors” in the key of F. Fiddler Arthur Joseph Boulay (1883-1948) recorded the hornpipe in December, 1928, in Montreal, released the following March as "Reel des matelots" (Sailor's Reel). Boulay was born in New Hampshire and lived there until he was about aged 30, and presumably learned to play the violin there--his "Reel des matelots" is probably more representative of New England fiddling at the turn of the century (Boulay backed his recording with another old fiddling war-horse, "Soldier's Joy," albeit under the title "Set canadien de Québec 3ème partie").

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: W. Franklin George (W.Va.) [1]; Floyd Woodhull, 1976 (New York State) [2]; Marion Yoders (fiddler and fifer from Greene County, Pa., 1963) and Brown Hall (fiddler from Fayette County, Pa., 1956) [3].

Printed sources:

  • Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 310E‑F, pp. 262‑263.
  • Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; p. 243.
  • Bronner (Old Time Music Makers of New York State), 1987; No. 10, p. 56.
  • Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 87 (appears as "College Hornpipe").
  • Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 46.
  • Hardings All-Round Collection, 1905; No. 177, p. 56.
  • Krassen (Appalchian Fiddle), 1973; p. 83.
  • Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 2), 1995; p. 222.
  • Seattle (Great Northern/William Vickers), 1987; No. 439 (appears as "College Hornpipe").
  • Sweet (Fifer’s Delight), 1965/1981; p. 41.

Recorded sources:

  • Folkways FA 2472, Roger Sprung‑ "Progressive Bluegrass, vol. 3."
  • Decca DL 74601, Bill Monroe‑ "Bluegrass Instrumentals."
  • New World NW 293, Rodney Miller ‑ "Instrumental Dance Music 1780's‑1920's."
  • Paramount 3017 (78 RPM), 1927, John Baltzell [4]
  • Topic TSCD607, Walter & Daisy Bulwer – “English Country Music” (2000. Originally recorded 1962).
  • Victor 263576b (78 RPM), A.J. Boulay (1929, as "Reel des matelots").



Back to Sailor's Hornpipe (1)


  1. Krassen
  2. Bronner
  3. Bayard
  4. Baltzell was a native of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, as was minstrel Dan Emmett (d. 1904). Emmett returned to the town in 1888, poor, but later taught Baltzell to play the fiddle.