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

RICHARD NIXON: Our whole family has always loved theatre, movies and music…(1)

JIMMY CARTER: I’ve been fairly close to my sons and their taste in music influenced my taste…(2)

BILL CLINTON: I used to play my saxophone a lot, sometimes when I was angry but usually when I was lonely. I could play for hours and hours and hours, and I wouldn’t be lonely anymore.(3)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: [Music] furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day…(4)

WARREN HARDING: I love music.(5)

HARRY S TRUMAN: I’ve got quite a collection of records…(6)

WILLIAM H. TAFT: …I’m on good terms with the people who make Victrolas and Victor records, because I’ve installed a ‘Victrola corner’ here in the White House, and they’ve given it wide publicity…(7)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: The normal human taste leads to the selection of rather obvious records at the start, perhaps nothing but jazz and the popular tunes, but for some reason the listener finds after a few hearings that he has grown tired of this obvious music.(8)

HARRY S TRUMAN: …I guess what I’ve got most of is records by the great piano players of the world. Rubinstein, of course, and Horowitz(9)

HARRY S TRUMAN: …And symphonies. Beethoven‘s First. I’ve got the Toscanini recording of that. And the Beethoven Concerto in D Major, the Francescatti recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra.(10)

JIMMY CARTER: I’m not a packaged article that you can put in a box and say, “Here’s a Southern Baptist, an ignorant Georgia peanut farmer who doesn’t have the right to enjoy music…”(11)

JAMES BUCHANAN: There is to be theatrical entertainment this evening in the open air at the garden of Nieschovchin, and afterwards a party at Madame Paschkoff’s. My old Presbyterian notions will prevent me from attending either… [I went to] the English Chapel… It contains no organ. They sing well.(12)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: …The amusements of life…are entitled to their portion of attention. These, for a female, are dancing, drawing, and music… No lady dances after marriage. This is founded in solid physical reasons, gestation and nursing leaving little time for a married lady when this exercise can either be safe or innocent… Music is invaluable where a person has an ear. Where they have not, it should not be attempted. It furnishes a delightful respite from the cares of the day and lasts us through life. The taste of this country, too, calls for this accomplishment more strongly than for either of the others.(13)

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES: I am yet so fond of simple airs that I have often thought I could never love a woman who did not sing them.(14)

GROVER CLEVELAND: If I knew of any pretty music I’d send it to you…(15)

JAMES A. GARFIELD: Just tonight, when all the labors of another week are done-and all around is quiet save the distant notes of a flute or guitar-and I alone here in my quiet room…(16)

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I wish they would let me sit out there quietly, and enjoy the music.(17)

JAMES BUCHANAN: Will you…pardon me for suggesting that without the formality of a public entertainment, I might be permitted to enjoy the pleasure of meeting such of my political friends as may do me the honor of paying me a visit…?(18)

HARRY S TRUMAN: I was taught to appreciate good music, not this damn noise they play today.(19)

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Even now men of affairs are struggling to catch up with the insights of great art. The stakes may well be the survival of civilization. The personal preferences of men in government are not important-except to themselves.(20)

ULYSSES S. GRANT: …I had to face the music.(21)

[Ed. Note: According to composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Grant knew only two tunes, "one is 'Yankee Doodle' and the other isn't."(22)]



(1) From The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 539.

(2) From Robert Scheer‘s Interview with Jimmy Carter published in Playboy Magazine, November 1976. Reprinted in Conversations with Carter, edited by Don Richardson (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publications, 1998), p. 49.

(3) From Clinton on Clinton, A Portrait of the President in His Own Words edited by Wayne Meyer (New York: Avon, 1999) p. 15.

(4) From Thomas Jefferson’s March 14, 1818 Letter to Nathaniel Burwell; collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1903-4), 15:135; 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. 25.

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

(6) 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. 87.

(7) From a William H. Taft quote in “Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists: George H. O’Connor” by Jim Walsh, Hobbies (January 1955); 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. 25.

(8) From “Bring the Best Music to the People, Urges President Coolidge,” The Musician, September 1923, p. 24.

(9) 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. 87.

(10) 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. 87.

(11) From Robert Scheer‘s Interview with Jimmy Carter published in Playboy Magazine, November 1976. Reprinted in Conversations with Carter, edited by Don Richardson (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publications, 1998), p. 49.

(12) From James Buchanan’s June 16, 1833 Diary entry; reprinted in the Works of James Buchanan, Volume 2, p. 356.

(13) From Thomas Jefferson’s March 14, 1818 Letter to Nathaniel Burwell; collected in the Letters of Thomas Jefferson edited by Adrienne Koch and William Peden (New York: Modern Library, 1972). p. 689.

(14) From Rutherford B. Hayes’ January 24, 1886 Letter to Lucy Hayes in the Rutherford Hayes Presidential Papers; 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. 115.

(15) From Grover Cleveland’s January 1, 1858 letter to Mary Cleveland Hoyt, Buffalo; collected in The Letters of Grover Cleveland, 1850-1908, selected and edited by Allan Nevins (Boston and New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1933), p. 9.

(16) From James A. Garfield’s November 10, 1855 Letter to Lucretia Rudolph, Williams College; collected in Crete and James: Personal Letters of Lucretia and James Garfield, edited by John Shaw (East Lansing MI: Michigan State University Press, 1994), p. 56.

(17) From an Abraham Lincoln quote in The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House by F. B. Carpenter (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867), p. 143; 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. 89.

(18) From James Buchanan’s November 3, 1842 Letter to Mr. G. M. Dallas et al. from the Merchant’s Hotel; reprinted in the Pennsylvanian on November 5, 1842 and in the Works of James Buchanan, Volume 5, pp. 405-6.

(19) From a comment Harry S Truman made attacking rock and roll during a Veterans Day Celebration recounted in a footnote in Off The Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), p. 356.

(20) From Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC on December 2, 1964; quoted in the essay “History of the Kennedy Center” by Roger Meersman which is archived on the Web site of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library.

(21) From the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant [New York: The Library of America, 1990], p. 29.

(22) 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. 103.

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