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

WOODROW WILSON: Music, now more than ever before, is a national need.(1)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: Music, drawing, books, invention and exercise will be so many resources to you against ennui.(2)

RICHARD NIXON: Thomas Jefferson is remembered for the Declaration of Independence and his other contributions. One of his least known and most delightful legacies is the President’s Own Band.(3)

DWIGHT EISENHOWER: The development of American music, and the native development of any art, is the development of a national treasure.(4)

RONALD REAGAN: American musical history is richly endowed with genius and originality while reflecting the many and diverse influences which have made it unique.(5)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: [Music] is the favorite passion of my soul, and fortune has cast my lot in a country where it is in a state of deplorable barbarism.(6)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: [Music] is the art especially representative of democracy, of the hope of the world…(7)

JOHN F. KENNEDY: It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society-in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.(8)

GEORGE BUSH: For some, being American means passionate stewards of the arts, committed to bringing theater, painting, dance, music, and so much more to all kinds of Americans across this country.(9)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: …of all the fine arts there is none that makes such a universal and inevitable appeal as music.(10)

BILL CLINTON: Learning improves in school environments where there are comprehensive music and arts programs. They increase the ability of young people to do math. They increase the ability of young people to read. And most important of all, they’re a lot of fun.(11)

JAMES MADISON: I myself used to have too great a hankering after those amusing studies. Poetry, wit and criticism, romances, plays, &c., captivated me much; but I began to discover that they deserve but a small portion of a mortal’s time, and that something more substantial, more durable, and more profitable, befits a riper age. It would be exceedingly improper for a laboring man to have nothing but flowers in his garden, or to determine to eat nothing but sweet meats and confections. Equally absurd would it be for a scholar and a man of business to make up his whole library with books of fancy, and feed his mind with nothing but luscious performances.(12)

WOODROW WILSON: The man who disparages music as a luxury and nonessential is doing the nation an injury.(13)

JOHN F. KENNEDY: …the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose–and it is the test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.(14)

GROVER CLEVELAND: Any disinclination on the part of the most learned and cultured of our citizens to mingle in public affairs, and the consequent abandonment of political activity to those who have but little regard for student and scholar in politics, are not favorable conditions under a government such as ours, and if they have existed to a damaging extent, very recent events appear to indicate that the education and conservatism of the land are to be hereafter more plainly heard in the expression of the popular will.(15)

RICHARD M. NIXON: I think that to create great music is one of the highest aspirations man can set for himself.(16)

WARREN HARDING: We cannot have too much music; we need it; the world needs it…(17)

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: American genius was very much addicted to painting…but we had neither cultivated nor were very attached much to music.(18)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: There must be found a practical basis whereby the significance of music may be brought home to the average citizen, so that the learning and the taste of the highly cultivated specialist may eventually find its reflection in the spontaneous impulses of the every day American. If the best music is brought to the people, there need be no fear about their ability to appreciate it or their desire to accept it.(19)

RONALD REAGAN: From new freedom will spring new opportunities for growth, a more productive, fulfilled and united people, and a stronger America-an America that will lead the technological revolution, and also open its mind and heart and soul to the treasures of literature, music, and poetry, and the values of faith, courage, and love…Now we hear again the echoes of our past:…a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air. It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That’s our heritage; this is our song. We sing it still.(20)



(1) From a quote in “Our Musical Presidents” by Doron K. Antrim, Etude, May 1940; 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. 193.

(2) From Thomas Jefferson’s March 28, 1787 Letter to Martha Jefferson; collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh {Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1903-4} 15:30; 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. 27.

(3) From a comment by Richard Nixon on the Web site of the United States Marine Band.

(4) From a Dwight D. Eisenhower quote 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. 277.

(5) From a White House letter by Ronald Reagan sent to the American Music Center in support of American Music Week, November 3-9, 1986, in the Archives of the American Music Center.

(6) From Thomas Jefferson’s June 8, 1778 Letter to Giovanni Fabbroni.

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

(8) From John F. Kennedy’s Address to Amherst College, October 26, 1963, cited in Public Papers of the Presidents: 1963, p. 817; archived on the Web site of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library.

(9) From George Bush’s remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medal of the Arts, July 22, 1992; archived on the Web site of the George Bush Presidential Library.

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

(11) From a quote by Bill Clinton on Friday, June 16, 2000, cited on the White House Web site.

(12) From James Madison’s January 24, 1774 Letter to William Bradford Jr.; reprinted in The Writings of James Madison, edited by Gaillard Hunt (New York: Putnam, 1900) Volume I, p. 20.

(13) From a quote in “Our Musical Presidents” by Doron K. Antrim, Etude, May 1940, p. 299.

(14) From a quotationinscribed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, archived on the Web site of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library.

(15) From Grover Cleveland’s Address at the 250(th) Anniversary of Harvard College, November 9, 1886; reprinted in Letters and Addresses of Grover Cleveland, edited by Albert Ellery Bergh (New York: Unit Book Publishing, 1909), p. 90.

(16) 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.<16>

(17) From a Warren Harding quote in “Our Musical Presidents” by Doron K. Antrim, Etude, May 1940, p. 337.

(18) From the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams (New York, 1874) I: 98-99; 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. 42.

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

(20) From Ronald Reagan’s Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1985; archived on the Bartleby Web site.

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