Words By: Roland Ellis | June 4th, 2015
American Presidents love music, just like you and me. The more cynical view would be to say that it’s important that we, the potential voters, count Presidents as music fans--what is more relatable, 'more human', than a lover of music?
Without question, some have gotten it more than others--see George W. Bush’s out-of-sync dancing during 'Africa Malaria Day' as compared to Bill Clinton’s ball-tearing sax solo on the Arsenio Hall Show, for example. But, ultimately, they’ve all pronounced music fandom in one form or another over the years.President Barack Obama has rightly been called "the most broadly appreciative music fan to ever occupy the oval office".
That being the case, we've decided to put together a playlist of Presidential favorites, all taken from at least 50 years ago in keeping with the theme of Gaslight Records. Read on to discover Tricky Dicky’s classical leanings; Obama’s affinity to Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and Earth Wind & Fire; and Bill Clinton’s love of Blues and Jazz. Also included is Thomas Jefferson’s favorite concerto; along with one of the tunes that made it onto Dwight D. Eisenhower’s compilation album, The President’s Favorite Music (1956).
Franz Joseph Hadyn - "Surprise" (Symphony no. 94)
Thomas Jefferson was reportedly a music nut. The 3rd President once claimed that music “is the favorite passion of my soul”; and his granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Coolidge, who resided in the bedroom directly above Jefferson’s, said he was “always singin’”. On top of the incessant singin’, Jefferson also played the cello, clavichord and violin.
His favorite composer was Franz Joseph Hadyn.
The Navy Hymnal - "Eternal Father, Strong To Save"
Gerald Ford remains one of the 20th century’s most mysterious Presidents. Many would suggest that’s because there isn’t much to know.
Ford wasn’t secretive or hard to categorize necessarily, he was just pretty uninteresting. LBJ went so far as to call the 38th President dim witted: “He’s a nice fellow but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet.”
Ford’s favorite song--“Eternal Father” (The US Navy Hymnal)--gives further rise to the idea that the President wasn’t exactly the life of the party.
Elvis Presley - "Heartbreak Hotel"
Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, had seriously considered a career as a tenor saxophonist before turning his eye to politics. Fair enough considering he had been appointed ‘First Chair’ in the Arkansas State Orchestra during college.
Clinton turned away from a professional music career after realizing he “would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz”. But Clinton’s musical ability still came in handy when, after winning the presidency, he appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show (1992) to deliver a rendition of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”--a move that many critics believe further strengthened his supporter base.
Marian Anderson - "He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands"
The President’s Favorite Music was a compilation album (allegedly) assembled by the 34th President of United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The cover art featured a photo of Ike and the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower. Along with classical staples by Bach, Strauss and Beethoven, the LP (still in print today) also featured Marian Anderson’s version of much-covered American spiritual “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”.
Well, Ike had just overseen the development of enough nuclear weapons to explode the world many times over, so I guess the song choice was appropriate; that is, if you’re into that deeply sadistic kinda irony.
Frank Sinatra - "Nancy (With The Laughing Face)"
The Republican Party’s paragon of virtue, 40th US President Ronald Reagan, was a huge Sinatra fan. The respect was mutual. Reagan's favourite song was "Nancy (With The Laughing Face)"--chosen because it was also his wife’s name.
It's hard to write about Reagan in relation to music without mentioning his use of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” during his re-election campaign in 1984. What wasn’t abundantly clear to the Reagan campaign team at the time, was that Springsteen’s anti-Vietnam lyrics were anathema to everything the Republican Party had stood for during the preceding decade. Or, maybe it just didn’t matter--"the 'hook' is all people can hear, anyway": you can easily imagine an adviser saying something along these lines.
Stevie Wonder - "Fingertips"
President Barack Obama has rightly been called "the most broadly appreciative music fan to ever occupy the oval office". A statement he has consistently reinforced by endorsing a cross-section of artists ranging from Jay Z to Earth Wind & Fire to Bob Dylan.
Obama has also exhibited his own musical talent on several occasions--singing acapella lines from an Al Green song at a press event, joining in with Mick Jagger and the late B.B. King for a version of "Sweet Home Chicago", and slow-jamming with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon.
Obama credits Stevie Wonder as his greatest musical influence.
Bob Dylan - "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"
If Gerald Ford was the hall monitor of cold war era US Presidents, then Jimmy Carter was the kid who gets busted smoking Marlboro reds and waxing lyrical behind the gymnasium. In that scenario, JFK is surely the half-jock quarterback who scores all the babes but still somehow manages to retain a modicum of credibility among nerds and stoners alike--"he’s not like those other football guys, maaan"; Nixon is the wily outsider who holds a deep-seeded disdain for the established order that has always kept him at arms length--an order he vows revenge upon once he manages, after tireless work, to haggle his way through the backdoor and into the position of class president; LBJ is the big tight-end who encourages a small yet devoted following of slightly left-of-center flunkies, all of whom follow the big donk into the lavatory and wait outside the stall while he sinks battleships and describes his half-baked plans for achieving class supremacy; and Ronny Reagan, he was busy making tube sock TVC’s, but now he’s turned on to the idea of class presidency--"You hear he wants to deregulate school fees?! Damn rich kids…"
Just how important music was to Jimmy Carter--particularly Bob Dylan’s music--was summed up best in the President’s own words:
“The other source of my understanding about what’s right and wrong in this society is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. After listening to his records about "The Ballad of Hattie Caroll" and "Like a Rolling Stone" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'," I’ve learned to appreciate the dynamism of change in a modern society.”
George Jones - "The Window Up Above"
Country mega-star, George Jones, is a big favorite of George W. Bush. It’s an easy breezy connection to make--heartland music for a heartland boy.
More surprising have been Dubya’s peculiar dance moves over the years...
Richard Nixon - "Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1"
On top of being one of the most (if not the most) controversial Presidents in American history, Richard Nixon was also one of the most musically gifted. That might come as a surprise given how unmusical the man appeared to be. "Concerto #1" was Nixon’s own composition, which he played on primetime TV’s "Jack Paar Program" in 1963. Tricky later showed off his piano chops at the Grand Ole Opry, and at a White House event where he accompanied singer Pearl Bailey.
Gaslight Records is a way of reviving and reliving the music of 50 Years Ago. Unlike any other music site, everything you'll hear or read about on Gaslight Records will be sourced from music that is at least 50 years old.
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