The assassination at Ford’s Theatre occurred on the night of April 14, 1865, when President Lincoln and his wife were attending a performance of Our American Cousin. This traditional song has been recorded several times; my favorite version is from Uncle Earl’s She Waits for Night.
The great ship hit the iceberg late on the night of April 14, 1912 during her maiden voyage, claiming John Jacob Astor IV—who’s mentioned in the Shakers’ fantastic version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water”—and over 1500 other men and women.
Stoneman’s song was recorded a dozen years after the tragedy, and, according to the liner notes of The Unsung Father of Country Music, it sold “well into six figures.” The song is far more enjoyable than the movie, and is three hours shorter. Win-win.
April 14, 1935 was “Black Sunday,” named for the horrendous dust storms that hit the Plains. In case the pictures in your eighth grade history textbook weren’t scary enough, listening to Guthrie sing about the “deathlike black” clouds and families who “thought the world had ended and they thought it was their doom” is another confirmation about how terrifying the storms must have been.
1. “April the 14th, Part 1/Ruination Day, Part 2” – Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch sums up the date with these mournful songs from Time (The Revelator): “The great boat sank and the Okies fled/And the Great Emancipator took a bullet in the head.”
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.