Presidents are the rock stars of American politics, but did you know that many of our country’s leaders actually lead double lives as musicians?
Whether they played an instrument as a hobby or pursued dreams of stardom before entering politics, many U.S. presidents had secret musical talent. Their love for music is something each of these men have in common, no matter how different their politics may have been.
President’s Day is February 17, 2020, so let’s celebrate by highlighting 11 of the most musical presidents in U.S. history:
1. Thomas Jefferson
The third president, who also wrote the Declaration of Independence and helped frame the U.S. Constitution, reportedly said that music “is the favorite passion of my soul.” Thomas Jefferson loved to sing and played the violin, clavichord, and cello. Historical records indicate that Jefferson was particularly fond of the music of composers Hadyn, Vivaldi, Handel, and Boccherini.
2. Harry S. Truman
When most people think of President Harry S. Truman, they probably don’t think “piano.” But the 33rd President of the United States actually pursued a career as a concert pianist before becoming president. Truman reportedly woke up at 5am every day to practice before school. However, when he turned 15, young Truman gave up because he believed he lacked the talent to become a professional.
“My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse, or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference,” Truman once joked.
3. John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States, whose presidency included the creation of the Monroe Doctrine and the negotiation that ended the War of 1812. In his personal life, President Adams was an accomplished flutist. While attending Harvard University, Adam wrote his own musical compositions.
4. John Tyler
Before studying law and ultimately becoming the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler aspired to be a concert violinist. Taught by his father, Tyler ultimately gave up the violin when he began his law career. After his presidency ended, Tyler returned to music and reportedly entertained guests playing duets with his wife Julia, a guitarist.
5. Richard Nixon
Some historians consider Richard Nixon our nation’s most musical president. The 37th President of the United States played piano, violin, saxophone, clarinet, and accordion. Although he never learned to read music, Nixon performed often in public and leveraged his musical abilities to help his political campaign, playing “Gold Bless America” at the Grand Ol’ Opry. He also wrote his own compositions.
6. Abraham Lincoln
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln also played the violin? One of the most famous and distinguished presidents in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln’s vast legacy often overshadows the day-to-day facts about his personal life. But the 16th U.S. President was a music lover who enjoyed picking up a violin bow when he wasn’t in the oval office.
7. Woodrow Wilson
Like President Tyler and President Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson also played the violin as a favorite pastime. He began playing as a child and expanded his musical interests to include singing tenor in his college glee club. Although President Wilson’s musical endeavors were sidelined as his career matured, the 28th President never lost his love for music. During World War I, Wilson famously said, “Music now, more than ever before, is a national need.”
8. Calvin Coolidge
The 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge served in the oval office from 1923 to 1929. A musical hobbyist, Coolidge was known to play the harmonica in his free time.
9. Bill Clinton
Another president who once considered a professional music career before entering politics, 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton is a very talented saxophone player. In fact, his love for jazz became an iconic part of his presidential campaign and the early years of his administration. In 1992, he famously appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show and jammed out to Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.”
10. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Army general turned statesman Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as “Ike,” was a passionate supporter of the musical arts. In his time as the 34th President of the United States, Eisenhower and his wife Mamie were the first presidential couple to musical theatre to the White House. In 1956, he even released a compilation album titled The President’s Favorite Music: Dwight D. Eisenhower. The collection featured Eisenhower’s favorite songs, including “Porgy and Bess.”
11. Barack Obama
Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is often regarded as America’s most “hip” president. Known for being stylish and savvy, Obama also revealed a hidden talent for singing when he crooned a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” during a 2012 fundraiser. The clip soon went viral and Obama later sang “Sweet Home Chicago” at the White House’s “Red, White & Blues” event.