President Obama has made the Internet collectively squeal by simply singing a few lines of “Let’s Stay Together” and “Sweet Home Chicago” in the past, but he isn’t the only president with minor musical chops up his suit sleeve. With President’s Day afoot, we’re looking at five other leaders who could not only hold their own in the Oval Office but also hold a tune. Read on for a musical history lesson.
With the ease of social media, Obama may go down as the most recognized musical leader of them all. Our 44th President’s brief rendition (just a line) of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” back at a January 2012 fundraiser has racked up millions of views on YouTube. The viral sensation led to blues legend Buddy Guy calling him up on stage to perform hometown anthem “Sweet Home Chicago” alongside Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger and more. Bonus: Obama’s a Grammy winner, scooping up the Best Spoken Word Album Award in 2006 for his “Dreams From My Father.” Ba-rock on, Obama!
Obama sings Al Green
Obama jams with B.B. King & Mick Jagger
The 42nd president of the United States (1993-2001) had so much early success with his music (winning first chair in the Arkansas state band saxophone section) that he considered a career in it. In his autobiography, Clinton pondered a life dedicated to the tenor sax, but set those hopes aside, admitting, “I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz.” After winning the presidency, he made a defining career move when he performed Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” on the “Arsenio Hall Show” — a move that proved him to be a president for the MTV generation. Clinton’s appreciation was further proven with a 1993 White House celebration of the Newport Jazz Festival’s 40th anniversary, where he jammed onstage alongside jazz sax legends.
Before his career became overshadowed in controversy, our 37th president (1969-1974) proved to be one of the most musical. While his accordion skills were far from hidden, Nixon was also quite the accomplished pianist. He wrote his own concerto, aptly titled “Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1,” which he played on primetime TV’s “Jack Paar Program” in 1963. Nixon also showcased his piano chops at various events including playing “God Bless America” on the Grand Ole Opry stage and accompanying singer Pearl Bailey in a performance at the White House.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Did our 34th president (1953-1961) start the music compilation trend? Perhaps. In 1956, Eisenhower released an album titled “The President’s Favorite Music: Dwight D. Eisenhower” with the cover featuring him and first lady Mamie. While the duo was no brand like Sonny and Cher, the album did see the White House using music in a fun, interesting way, a la Obama’s 2012 Spotify playlist. The still available Eisenhower LPfeatured classical favorites like Bach, Beethoven and Strauss alongside more contemporary tracks like those from “Porgy and Bess” and Marian Anderson’s rendition of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.”
Our third president (1801-1809) was quoted saying that music “is the favorite passion of my soul,” and apparently the man meant it. His granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Coolidge, lived above his bedroom and said that Jefferson was “always singing when ridin’ or walkin’.” Meanwhile, his plantation overseer, Edmund Bacon, noted, “he was nearly always humming some tune, or singing in a low tone to himself.” No shy singing here! Plus Jefferson, whose favorite composer was Joseph Haydn, reportedly played cello, clavichord and violin.