The List: Music for the presidents

President Nixon and Pearl Bailey perform in 1974. (The White House)President Nixon and Pearl Bailey perform in 1974. (The White House)
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In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, President Obama said he has filled his 2,000-song iPod with songs from artists including Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and even some rappers, such as Nas and Lil Wayne. In the List this week, we check out the music other presidents listened to.

  • George W. Bush — In 2005, Mr. Bush said he had 250 songs on his iPod, including tunes by country greats George Jones and Alan Jackson, but also “My Sharona” by the Knack, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and “Swinging From the “Chains of Love” by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
  • Bill ClintonMr. Clinton, who plays the saxophone, is a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, whose “Don’t Stop” became his presidential campaign theme song. He also likes Joan Baez, Elton John, Sarah McLachlan, Carly Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Willie Nelson and Van Morrison. Two CDs of Clinton’s favorite music have been released.
  • George H.W. Bush — “When I need a little advice about Saddam Hussein, I turn to country music,” Mr. Bush said in 1991.
  • Ronald Reagan — His favorite hymn was “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and his favorite song was the Frank Sinatra classic “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” The 40th president was fond of saying, “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.”
  • Jimmy Carter — Mr. Carter was a big fan of Bob Dylan, but ironically, the “born-again” Mr. Carter became disenchanted with the singer after Mr. Dylan converted to Christianity, according Kevin Mattson in his book “What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President?” Mr. Carter’s other favorites were the Allman Brothers, Paul Simon and the Marshall Tucker Band.
  • Richard Nixon — Nixon not only played piano, but in 1961 performed his own “Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1” on “The Jack Paar Show.” Nixon took a dig at Harry Truman when asked by Paar about his political future: “If you look at the last election [1960] Republicans don’t want another piano player in the White House.”
  • John F. Kennedy — Unlike his wife, Jacqueline, Kennedy was not a big music lover. When a reporter asked what his favorite song was, he asked his wife for a suggestion and responded with: “‘Greensleeves,’ a very old English song.” Mrs. Kennedy said she and her husband liked Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture” and Debussy’s “Prelude to ‘The Afternoon of a Faun.’”
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower — Eisenhower released an album in 1956 titled “The President’s Favorite Music: Dwight D. Eisenhower,” with the president and first lady, Mamie, on the album cover. Some of Ike’s favorites were Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” Strauss’ “The Bat, overture,” Verdi’s “La Traviata Act II ‘Di Provenza il mar,’” and Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
  • Harry Truman — Truman was an accomplished piano player, especially when Lauren Bacall happened to be seated on top of the piano. His favorite composers were Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. In October 1945, at a county fair in Caruthersville, Mo., Truman played the piano for a group of Methodist women and winked at them as he said, “When I played this, Stalin signed the Potsdam Agreement.”
  • Abraham Lincoln — Lincoln attended many concerts and was fond of the Rumsey and Newcomb Minstrels and the Newhall Family singing troupe. He loved the tune “Old Hundred” and “The Lament of the Irish Emigrant.” He also was fond of “Dixie” and loved it even after the war. “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard,” he said. “Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it.”
  • Thomas Jefferson — Jefferson played violin and declared that music “is the favorite passion of my soul, and fortune has cast my lot in a country where it is in a state of deplorable barbarism.” He loved Haydn and, according to a daughter, liked to sing Scotch songs and Italian airs.
  • George Washington — Washington probably danced at Mount Vernon to the popular tune of the day “Durang’s Hornpipe”, named after the first president’s favorite entertainer, dancer John Durang, who said the song was composed for him in 1785 by a “German dwarf” named Hoffmaster. Washington no doubt would have hated the 1960s “British Invasion” but would have loved Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

Compiled by John Haydon

Sources: www.trumanlibrary.org, New York Post, www.bukisa.com, www.monticello.org, www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, www.irishcentral.com, www.jfklibrary.org.

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