Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

America’s Musical Presidents

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Here in the United States it is Presidents’ Day.  Last year, I talked about America’s first presidents and founding fathers and their connections with music.  But there have been a few other American presidents who played musical instruments—and I found some footage to show you!

I’ve already talked about Thomas Jefferson, who was a talented musician and great lover of music.

John Quincy Adams, sixth president and son of John Adams, the second president, played the flute, and even composed some pieces for flute while a student at Harvard.1

John Tyler, tenth president, wanted to become a concert violinist, but took up law instead.1

Ulysses S. Grant, however, is known for this quote:3

“I only know two tunes.  One of them is Yankee Doodle and the other isn’t.”

Chester A. Arthur, one of our lesser-known presidents, played the banjo1

Chester A Arthur with banjo

Chester A. Arthur with banjo

Woodrow Wilson, violinist and glee club tenor,4 said during World War One, “Music now, more than ever before, is a national need.”1

Warren G. Harding organized the Citizen’s Cornet Band, and said, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and E-flat cornet”1

Warren G Harding with sousaphone

Warren G. Harding with sousaphone

Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan played the harmonica.2

Franklin Roosevelt played the piano and sang in his school choir.2

His successor, Harry S. Truman, also played the piano,1 and you can hear a snippet here.

Richard Nixon played piano,1 accordion, and violin.3  He also dabbled in composing (the sound is missing from this video after the first segment, and has been omitted).

Gerald Ford, while not a musician himself, said, “The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.”2

Bill Clinton made no secret of his saxophone skills, playing Heartbreak Hotel on the Arsenio Hall tv show. But I prefer his performance at an event in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival, when he joined the greats of jazz on stage.

And, after singing a little Al Green on an earlier occasion, when B. B. King and Mick Jagger asked him to sing a few lines, how could Barack Obama refuse?



Image attributions: Warren G. Harding with tuba and Chester A. Arthur with banjo via .


One thought on “America’s Musical Presidents

  1. Way neat! No question that BC is terminally embarrassing as a saxophonist- but BO has a great sense of style (and pitch). Yet another way in which he is sorely missed!


    Liked by 1 person

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