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

RONALD REAGAN: American composers and musicians are among the finest in the world.(1)

JOHN F. KENNEDY: [Copland's] creative mind and imagination have been a significant force in the cultural life of this nation and of the world’s community.(2)

RICHARD NIXON: In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.(3)

GEORGE BUSH: Roy Acuff keeps alive the undying tradition of authentic country music — and I confess, I love that music. And he has helped make country music — really he’s the father of it, you might say. Roy… really has made it what it is today — a music for all Americans, an art form that doesn’t hold back one single thing. And it captures the joys and the aches and the frustrations that most of us feel, but few of us can express.(4)

GEORGE WASHINGTON: I have…one argument which will prevail with persons of true estate (at least in America) — I can tell them it is the production of Mr. Hopkinson.(5)

JOHN ADAMS: [Hopkinson] is one of your pretty, little, curious, ingenious men. His head is not bigger than a large apple. I have not met with anything in natural history more amusing and entertaining than his personal appearance, yet he is genteel and well-bred…[in the]…elegant and ingenious arts of painting, sculpture…and music.(6)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: While my eldest daughter was playing [a piece by Hopkinson] on a harpsichord, I happened to look toward the fire and saw the younger one all in tears. I asked her if she was sick. She said, “no; but the tune was so mournful.”(7)

CHESTER A. ARTHUR: Sousa…could play anything.(8)



(1) 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.

(2) From a Western Union Telegram sent by John F. Kennedy to Aaron Copland, dated August 19, 1961 (Note: Original reads “Your creative mind…” etc.); reproduced in Copland Since 1943 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989) p. 306.

(3) From The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 540.

(4) From George Bush’s Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medal of the Arts, July 9, 1991; archived on the Bush Library Web site.]

(5) From George Washington’s Feb 5, 1789 Letter to Francis Hopkinson; cited in Our American Music: A Comprehensive History from 1620 to the Present by John Tasker Howard (New York: Thomas Crowell Co., 1965), p. 42.

(6) From a 1776 Letter by John Adams to his wife Abigail Adams; cited in A History of Music in American Life: Volume I — The Formative Years 1620-1865 by Ronald L. Davis [Malabar FL: Robert Krieger Publishing Co., 1982), p. 62.

(7) From Thomas Jefferson’s description of Francis Hopkinson’s “The trav’ler benighted and lost, o’er the mountains pursues his own way,” cited in Our American Music: A Comprehensive History from 1620 to the Present by John Tasker Howard (New York: Thomas Crowell Co., 1965), p. 42.

(8) From a Chester A. Arthur quote recounted in Marching Along: Recollections of Men, Women and Music by John Philip Sousa (Boston: Hale, Cushman and Flint, 1928) p. 80; 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.136.