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

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: I want you to count me among the thousands of radio listeners throughout the nation who wish the Metropolitan Opera to continue, and to go on to greater glory.(1)

RONALD REAGAN: It’s wonderful today to see the widespread popularity of opera in America from New York to San Francisco and a great many towns and cities in between.(2)

HARRY S TRUMAN: I haven’t recovered from that siege of grand opera yet…Perhaps if they had given me small doses I might have been trained because I do love music. I can even appreciate Chopin when he is played on the piano.(3)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: There is melody in opera as well as the popular songs of the day.(4)

RONALD REAGAN: You know, for the attentive ear, opera might even be considered a spectator sport…(5)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: Very often, on Saturday afternoons, when my work is done I have listened to the opera broadcasts and have enjoyed the music which this modern miracle has brought into my study in Washington…(6)

RICHARD NIXON: I’m not one who goes much for opera, perhaps because I don’t like the social part of opera. You know, I’ve been invited many times, and you’re supposed to dress up when you go to the dinners and all that sort of thing.(7)

HARRY S TRUMAN: …when it comes to a lot of would be actors and actresses running around the stage and spouting song and hugging and killing each other promiscuously why I rather go to the Orpheum.(8)

RONALD REAGAN: There’s a strong element of competition in this art form, the excitement of watching world-recognized professionals at work and the thrilling payoff of years of education and training. All of this plus music, drama and dance add up to a unique and thrilling event.(9)

HARRY S TRUMAN: Perhaps if I could understand Dutch and Dago I could appreciate it better for I did hear an opera in English once that sounded real good. They say though it isn’t good form to appreciate singing in English. I am sorry.(10)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: Grand opera has now become in a real sense, the people’s opera rather than the possession of only a privileged few…(11)

RONALD REAGAN: Opera lovers can be confident of this inspirational art form in the future of America.(12)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: In some countries, opera is subsidized by the government; here it depends only upon those who have love for immortal music.(13)

BENJAMIN HARRISON: I have sometimes thought that the life of the President of the United States is like that of the policeman in the opera — not a happy one.(14)



(1) From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s January 31, 1940 letter to David Sarnoff, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera’s Radio Division, housed in the FDR Papers (PPF 764); 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. 224.

(2) From Remarks by Ronald Reagan broadcast during the September 21, 1983 PBS telecast of “In Performance” recorded at the White House; transcribed and 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. 353.

(3) From Harry S Truman’s January 10, 1910 Letter to Bessie Wallace collected in the Truman Papers and published in Harry Truman: The Man and His Music by Brian Lingham (Kansas City: Lowell, 1985); 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. 254.

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

(5) From Remarks by Ronald Reagan broadcast during the September 21, 1983 PBS telecast of “In Performance” recorded at the White House; transcribed and 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. 353.

(6) From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s January 31, 1940 Letter to David Sarnoff, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera’s Radio Division, housed in the FDR Papers (PPF 764); 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. 224.

(7) From the second part of Richard Nixon’s conversation with Brian Lamb at the time of the release of Nixon’s book, Seize the Moment: America’s Challenge in a One-Superpower World, originally broadcast on the C SPAN-2 program, Booknotes on March 1, 1992, transcribed on the Booknotes Web site.]

(8) From Harry S Truman’s January 10, 1910 Letter to Bessie Wallace collected in the Truman Papers and published in Harry Truman: The Man and His Music by Brian Lingham (Kansas City: Lowell, 1985); 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. 254.

(9) From Remarks by Ronald Reagan broadcast during the September 21, 1983 PBS telecast of “In Performance” recorded at the White House; transcribed and 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. 353.]

(10) From Harry S Truman’s January 10, 1910 Letter to Bessie Wallace collected in the Truman Papers and published in Harry Truman: The Man and His Music by Brian Lingham (Kansas City: Lowell, 1985); 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. 254.

(11) From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s January 31, 1940 Letter to David Sarnoff, chairman of the Metropolitan Opera’s Radio Division, housed in the FDR Papers (PPF 764); 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. 224.]

(12) From Remarks by Ronald Reagan broadcast during the September 21, 1983 PBS telecast of “In Performance” recorded at the White House; transcribed and 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. 353.]

(13) From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s January 31, 1940 Letter to David Sarnoff, then chairman of the Metropolitan Opera’s Radio Division, housed in the FDR Papers (PPF 764); 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. 224.]

(14) From Benjamin Harrison’s October 11, 1890 Address at the Jockey Club House in St. Louis MO; reprinted in Speeches of Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States compiled by Charles Hedges (Port Washington NY: Kennikat Press, 1971 re-issued from 1892), p. 270]