Music and the American Presidency: A Virtual Fireside Chat with U.S. Presidents

THEODORE ROOSEVELT: I accept with pleasure and thank you heartily for the beautiful piano which you recently placed in the White House.(1)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: No doubt a pianoforte would be a perfectly proper piece of furniture. But in the present state of our funds, they will be exhausted by articles more indispensable.(2)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: The great contribution of the piano has been to open a storehouse of composition and enable good music to be familiar and popular…(3)

HARRY S TRUMAN: I once read some place that a happy childhood is a very, very rare thing, and I’m sure that that is true, but I can honestly say I had one… Of course, we didn’t have all the places to go and things to do that kids do now, and a lot of them don’t see how they can get along if they don’t have them. But I guess if you don’t know what you’re missing, you don’t miss it, and so, of course, when I was a boy, we didn’t have cars and movies and television and radio, none of that. We played. My mother played, and my sister and I played the piano…(4)

RICHARD M. NIXON: Playing the piano is a way of expressing oneself that is perhaps even more fulfilling than writing or speaking.(5)

RONALD REAGAN: …For awhile there I almost convinced myself I could play.(6)



(1) From Theodore Roosevelt’s March 2, 1903 Letter to Steinway collected in the Theodore Roosevelt Papers; cited in Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit by Elise K. Kirk (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 172.

(2) From Thomas Jefferson’s June 18, 1800 Letter to Claxton {original letter in the Massachusetts Historical Society}; reprinted in Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit by Elise K. Kirk (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 34.

(3) From “Bring the Best Music to the People, Urges President Coolidge,” The Musician, September 1923, p. 8.

(4) From a comment by Harry S Truman in Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller (New York: Berkley Publishing Co. distributed by Putnam, 1972), p. 49.

(5) From The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Simon and Schuster), p. 9; also reprinted in Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit by Elise K. Kirk (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 318.

(6) From a Reagan quote in The Films of Ronald Reagan by Tony Thomas (Secaucus NJ: Citadel Press, 1980), p. 119; reprinted in Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit by Elise K. Kirk (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 348.

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