The Musical Tastes Of Our Ex-Presidents
Barack Obama has released several playlists, and we know about Kamala Harris’s passion for hip hop, funk, and R&B but what about the other ex-presidents? On a side note, we know that Trump used plenty of songs inappropriately during his rallies, and everybody remembers his atrocious dance while blasting the Village People’s ‘Y.M.C.A.’ But these rally playlists have nothing to do with his personal music tastes. As a matter of fact, I tend to believe he has no interest in music whatsoever, the proof? there were no artists invited for the traditional In Performance from the White House during Trump’s 4 years at the White House.
The internet started in the mid-90s, so there is probably more information about Bill Clinton and George W Bush than Kennedy or Nixon, but there is still plenty of stuff out there. Here are the musical tastes of our ex-presidents
George W. Bush (2001-2009): The New York Times published a playlist from his iPod in 2005, and it included plenty of country music (no surprise there) with artists such as Alan Jackson, George Jones, and Kenny Chesney, but also rock classics from John Fogerty’s ‘Centerfield’ to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown-Eyed Girl.’ Caitlin Moran, from the London Times, noted at the time: ‘No black artists, no gay artists, no world music, only one woman, no genre less than 25 years old, and no Beatles.’ It was an exercise playlist (Bush is an avid runner) and there was no R&B or pop on that list but Kenny Loggins, John Hiatt, James McMurtry, Alejandro Escovedo, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and The Thrills, one of the few European bands. To his defense, James Brown, Lionel Hampton, and Itzhak Perlman were part of the TV event ‘In Performance at the White House,’ during his time.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001): His saxophone number became famous during a famous TV appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. Clinton was the ‘cool’ one, hanging out with rock stars like Bono and convincing Fleetwood Mac to perform together at his inaugural ball in 1993. Clinton published a Top 20 songs of all time in 2011 and the list included jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman) but also some ‘60s-‘70s pop-folk classics (Elton John’ s ’Philadelphia Freedom,’ Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ Judy Collins’ ‘Chelsea Morning,’ Joan Baez’s ‘Winds Of The Old Days,’ Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’). Also noticeable, Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,’ Willie Nelson’s ‘A Song For You.’ Pop and jazz are Clinton’s favorites but he also invited Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and Linda Ronstadt to perform at the White House.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): Unsurprisingly, the other Bush also liked country: George Strait performed ‘Love Without End, Amen’ for the POTUS at Camp David, and he and First Lady Barbara Bush even attended the Country Music Awards in 1991. Bush praised country music: ‘Country music gives us a window on the real world and when I want to feel a certain surge of patriotism or turn nostalgic or even when I need a little free advice about Saddam Hussein, I turn to country music.’ Harry Connick Jr., Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Mathis were invited to perform at the White House during his term, and Reba McEntire sang at his funeral.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Reagan was a fan of the boss, and misused ‘Born in the USA’ during his re-election campaign to Bruce Springsteen’s great disapproval. He also tried to use John Mellencamp’s ‘Pink Houses,’ and was rejected, so had to settle on Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA.’ But it was obviously not his first choice. Reagan also loved the Beach Boys whom he called ‘America’s Band,’ maybe because they represented his home state of California. Even though they had been banned from performing on the DC mall in 1983, and despite the band’s personal struggles with drug abuse and alcoholism, the Beach Boys performed at Reagan’s second inaugural ball, where they dedicated ‘Their Hearts Were Full of Spring’ to the first couple. Reagan also invited Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, and Beverly Sills to sing during the traditional In Performance from the White House.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): Southern president Carter had a long friendship with Gregg Allman, ‘Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers just about put me in the White House,’ he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Allman Brothers Band were guests at Carters’ Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C. He also admitted listening to Willie Nelson ‘between crises’: ‘I would tie flies for fishing and listen to Willie.’ Linda Ronstadt covered Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ for Carter’s inauguration, Jimmy Carter had great tastes in music and a real passion for the art. A recent documentary portrays him as a ‘Rock & Roll President,’ and, the movie follows candidate Carter quoting Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ and the ex-president at home dropping his turntable needle on Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ The documentary demonstrates that music was very important in Carter’s campaign, presidency, and life after the White House, while featuring Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bono, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Rosanne Cash, Trisha Yearwood, Nile Rodgers, Garth Brooks, and of course Gregg Allman.
Gerald Ford (1974-1977): If his presidential library lists his favorite music type as ‘jazz/swing,’ not much is known about his precise musical tastes and favorite artists. During his presidency, Ford received visits from George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Peter Frampton – as his son Jack had met the former Beatle backstage after a concert in Salt Lake City. At his inauguration, Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, ‘Hail to the Victors.’
Richard Nixon (1969-1974): The only thing I had in mind was the famous and strange photo of him shaking hands with Elvis. This was just a strange connection, but not a musical taste. Nixon was a classical music devotee, he appreciated light or semi-classical (Mantovani, Boston Pops, and 1001 Strings) and musical soundtracks (‘Gone with the Wind,’ ‘My Fair Lady,’ ‘Carousel,’ ‘Oklahoma,’ and ‘King and I’). He could play piano and violin from a young age, he even wrote his own music and composed several concertos. He gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil honor, to jazz legend Duke Ellington in ’69. Nixon’s tastes were very specific, when asked about his favorite music, he mentioned Richard Rodgers music for the television series ‘Victory at Sea,’ Lawrence Welk albums, some Mantovani, and ‘The Sound of Music,’ along with Tchaikovsky. Nixon also invited Johnny Cash to perform at the White House.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): The presidential library indicates some cowboy classics among Johnson’s favorite songs, such as Roy Rogers’ ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ and ‘Wagon Wheels,’ as well as songs from popular musicals of the era, like ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Hello Dolly!’ but also Richard Strauss’ Viennese Waltzes. The entire thing is very old-school, even for the time.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): His mythic nickname, Camelot, comes from the last lines of the 1960 musical starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews —Kennedy would frequently listen to the B-side of the record before going to bed. Frank Sinatra backed Kennedy during the 1960 election by re-recording ‘High Hopes’ to the president’s campaign, and if JFK found music painful in general, he and Jackie enjoyed ‘symphonic music with extra-musical associations, such as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Overture’ and Debussy’s ‘Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun.’’ Kennedy’s musical tastes ranged ‘from middlebrow to noncommittal,’ and his musical repertoire included ‘Mack the Knife’ from The Threepenny Opera, Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist,’ and ‘September Song’ from Knickerbocker Holiday. He also loved jazz and brought the Paul Winter Sextet, the first jazz ensemble to play in the White House in 1962.