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#1853703 - 02/29/12 01:21 PM U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities  
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© L.A. Times - Feb 22, 2012

Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog


Musical moments with U.S. presidents
February 22, 2012 | 3:25 pm

President Obama sang the blues with B.B. King at the White House
President Obama’s quick duet with B.B. King on the blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago,” which took place Tuesday during a White House concert celebrating the blues, gave the nation another sample of his vocal chops. It also put Pop & Hiss in mind of previous examples of chief executives who have flexed their musical muscle while in office. Here are some highlights:

Barack Obama: The president also crooned the opening line from Al Green’s 1971 hit “Let’s Stay Together” during at a fundraiser last month at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, demonstrating his glassy tenor before an audience that included the Rev. Al himself. He shook his finger at advisors offstage and told the crowd, “Those guys didn’t think I would do it.”

George W. Bush: Obama’s predecessor was famous for playing his iPod. After his personal playlist -- which had been selected by his personal aide, Blake Gottesman -- went public in 2005, it revealed Bush’s predilection for the music of George Jones, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and the Knack. “No one should psychoanalyze the song selection,” Bush advisor Mark McKinnon said at the time, because he said the president mostly plugged into what was dubbed “iPod One” riding his bike around his Texas ranch. “It’s music to get over the next hill.”

Bill Clinton: Clinton picked up the tenor sax he’d played through high school and college on a number of occasions during his two terms in office, and as a candidate in 1992 on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” where he riffs on the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child.”

Richard Nixon: Nixon visited the Grand Ole Opry for the dedication ceremony after the long-running live and radio show moved from its venerated home at the Ryman Auditorium to a new facility at the Opryland USA theme park. He took a seat at a piano and played “Happy Birthday” for his wife, Pat Nixon, then played “My Wild Irish Rose” to acknowledge her Irish heritage, and closed the program by playing “God Bless America.”

In that ceremony, Nixon cited his appreciation for country music by noting that the White House during his administration had hosted performances by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Roy Acuff and Glen Campbell, among others. “Country music,” Nixon said, “has those combinations which are so essential to America's character at a time that America needs character, because today -- one serious note, let me tell you -- the peace of the world for generations, maybe centuries to come, will depend not just on America’s military might, which is the greatest in the world, or our wealth, which is the greatest in the world, but it is going to depend on our character, our belief in ourselves, our love of our country, our willingness to not only wear the flag but to stand up for the flag. And country music does that.”

As president, Nixon once accompanied singer Pearl Bailey when she sang in the East Room of the White House. Nixon also played the accordion.

Nixon was no longer vice president and not yet president when played he played a composition of his own on “The Jack Paar Show” during John F. Kennedy’s administration. To accompany Nixon on the show, Paar surprised him with an orchestra made up of “about 15 Democratic violinists.”



Harry S. Truman: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse,” Truman famously said, “or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” Truman often said that if he had learned to be proficient pianist, he never would have become president.

After playing for a group of Methodist women at a county fair in his home state of Missouri, he told them, “When I played this, Stalin signed the Potsdam Agreement.”

Truman also wrote a celebrated response to Washington Post music critic Paul Hume’s assessment of a singing performance by his daughter, Margaret, in 1950, in which Hume wrote “Miss Truman cannot sing very well.”

The president blasted back: “I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an ‘eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.’

“It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for, it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.

“Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

Warren G. Harding: The 29th president may well be the only chief executive who played the sousaphone. At the time Harding took office in 1921, it was still a relatively new arrival in the music world, having been created in the late 1890s on orders of the country’s great bandleader and composer of marching band music, John Philip Sousa. He wanted a tuba that would be easier to carry than existing models while retaining the concert tuba’s full rich tone. It’s unclear whether Harding ever oompahed in the Oval Office.

Chester A. Arthur: Arthur reportedly played the banjo, which at the time represented both a political and cultural statement. The instrument originated in Africa and was often featured in minstrel performances of the 19th century, but was commonly disparaged in “serious" music circles. When a sitting president played the banjo, it lent credence to musicians who were campaigning to get the banjo greater respect.

Ulysses S. Grant: Grant was known more for his drinking than his harmonizing, and once said that he knew only two songs: “One is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the other isn’t.”

Thomas Jefferson: The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the creators of the Constitution of the United States was an avid violinist who played chamber music while studying at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Music, he said, was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which cannot be calculated.”

Jefferson left behind an extensive music library of books and sheet music by Haydn, Handel, J.C. Bach, Corelli, Purcell and many others. It is housed at the University of Virginia.

“Music is invaluable where a person has an ear,” Jefferson wrote late in life. “It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life.”

You can also see a list of Pianos in the White House Here



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#1853717 - 02/29/12 01:33 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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Thanks for this information! Very interesting:P


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#1853746 - 02/29/12 02:16 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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Very Interesting, Frank!

Thanks for posting this!

Rick


Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel
#1853747 - 02/29/12 02:20 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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I'm inclined to think Obama might be the most musically gifted of any president.

Although.... grin

Originally Posted by Piano World
....Thomas Jefferson: The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the creators of the Constitution of the United States was an avid violinist who played chamber music while studying at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Music, he said, was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which cannot be calculated.”

Jefferson left behind an extensive music library of books and sheet music by Haydn, Handel, J.C. Bach, Corelli, Purcell and many others. It is housed at the University of Virginia.

“Music is invaluable where a person has an ear,” Jefferson wrote late in life. “It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life.”

What I know about Jefferson's music, I learned from 1776: ha



"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)
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#1853769 - 02/29/12 03:26 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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I saw an interview where Barack Obama was asked what his biggest regret was. He said it was that he never learned to play in instrument.



“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
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#1855196 - 03/02/12 08:52 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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Benjamin Franklin was not only a musician but a musical instrument inventor:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_armonica

You can see one of those early glass harmonicas in the music museum in Brussels (along with many of the non-saxaphone inventions of the Sax family).



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#1855221 - 03/02/12 09:48 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Kymber]  
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Originally Posted by Kymber
I saw an interview where Barack Obama was asked what his biggest regret was. He said it was that he never learned to play in instrument.

Several years ago, I realized that was my biggest regret as well. That's why I went out and learned to play an instrument. OTOH, I have a lot more free time than the POTUS.


Please step aside. You're standing in your own way.

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#1855671 - 03/03/12 06:59 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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Harry S. Truman & Lauren Bacall

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#1855725 - 03/03/12 09:02 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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At one time, I believe on the Monticello website, there was a picture of a piece of music written in Jefferson's hand. The tune was Monymusk - a Scottish tune we still play and dance to today. It's the first tune specifically mentioned in the Little House books.

Cathy


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#1855750 - 03/03/12 09:48 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Mark_C]  
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
I'm inclined to think Obama might be the most musically gifted of any president.


Based on what?

#1855850 - 03/04/12 12:23 AM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Damon]  
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Originally Posted by Damon
Originally Posted by Mark_C
I'm inclined to think Obama might be the most musically gifted of any president.
Based on what?

I guess you didn't hear him sing....


"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)
#1856030 - 03/04/12 11:24 AM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Mark_C]  
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by Damon
Originally Posted by Mark_C
I'm inclined to think Obama might be the most musically gifted of any president.
Based on what?

I guess you didn't hear him sing....


I heard this, and while it is more impressive than Mick Jagger....


#1856344 - 03/05/12 12:29 AM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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I'm not an Obama supporter, but I have to admit his singing was not bad at all. When does the album come out?


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#1857254 - 03/06/12 03:48 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: TX-Dennis]  
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Hi there,

Did you know,...even the pope plays piano..

Pope Benedict

Cheers,
Johan B

Last edited by Johan B; 03/06/12 05:41 PM.

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#1857322 - 03/06/12 06:06 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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Former British PM Edward Heath was perhaps best-known as a conductor, but he was also apparently an organist and pianist.

From Wikipedia:
Heath also maintained an interest in orchestral music as an organist and conductor, famously installing a Steinway grand in 10 Downing Street – bought with his £450 Charlemagne Prize money, awarded for his unsuccessful efforts to bring Britain into the EEC in 1963, and chosen on the advice of his friend, the pianist Moura Lympany – and conducting Christmas carol concerts in Broadstairs every year from his teens until old age. Heath often played the organ for services at Holy Trinity Church Brompton in his early years.

Heath conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, notably at a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall in November 1971, at which he conducted Sir Edward Elgar's overture Cockaigne (In London Town). He also conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as orchestras in Germany and the United States. Heath received honorary degrees from the Royal College of Music and Royal College of Organists. During his premiership, Heath invited musician friends, such as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Clifford Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet, to perform either at Chequers or 10 Downing Street.

In 1988, Heath recorded Beethoven's Triple Concerto, Op. 56 and Boccherini's Cello Concerto in G major, G480.


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#1923263 - 07/06/12 04:03 AM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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just saw the thread as a result of the pw newsletter I found in my inbox. Loved the little read and cracked up at the stories of the earlier presidents. Thanks for sharing


"[The trick to life isn't] just about living forever. The trick is still living with yourself forever."
#1923557 - 07/06/12 09:58 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities [Re: Piano World]  
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"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils."
~ W. Shakey.

... notice how many of the most-recent Presidents didn't/don't own a piano?

NUFF SAID.


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#2314774 - 08/13/14 12:44 AM U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities/Lauren Bacall [Re: Elssa]  
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Lauren Bacall: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Bacall

Originally Posted by Elssa


Harry S. Truman & Lauren Bacall

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Last edited by Elssa; 08/13/14 12:48 AM.
#2315531 - 08/14/14 03:23 PM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities/Lauren Bacall [Re: Piano World]  
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I think this is a better example of President Obama's singing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb0r4auE7eU

And the aforementioned Nixon playing piano on the Jack Parr program:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBc1RywVNkA



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#2315734 - 08/15/14 12:11 AM Re: U.S. Presidents & Their Music Abilities/Lauren Bacall [Re: Brad Hoehne]  
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Originally Posted by Brad Hoehne
I think this is a better example of President Obama's singing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb0r4auE7eU



That's so nice.. he sounds right in tune. Easy listenin' style. smile I like the way he doesn't take himself too seriously and just seems to be having fun with it. I heard that when he was questioned in an interview about regrets, he said it was that he never learned to play a musical instrument.. I think he would make a great piano player. grin

Interview: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20556383,00.html


Last edited by Elssa; 08/15/14 12:14 AM.

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