These Are the Presidents Who Played Music (and How Donald Trump Compares)
When you think U.S. president, do you think musician? Probably not. Although you might associate a number of accomplishments with American presidents, musical talent is likely close to the last thing on your list.
1. Barack Obama
Barack Obama sang a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at a January 2012 fundraiser, and it led to millions of views on YouTube, according to Billboard. Next, Buddy Guy called Obama onto the stage to perform “Sweet Home Chicago” with Guy, Mick Jagger, B.B. King, and more.
In addition, Obama won a Best Spoken Word Album Grammy for his 2006 record “Dreams From My Father.” When he sang “Amazing Grace” at Rev. Clementa Pickney’s funeral — Pickney was killed in the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, shooting — he brought the house down.
Next: This president considered a career in music.
2. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton actually won first chair in the Arkansas state band saxophone section, according to Billboard. He had thought about a career in music but eventually canned the idea because, he said, “I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz.”
Once he became president, Clinton went on the Arsenio Hall Show and played “Heartbreak Hotel,” which went over big. And in 1993 he played with jazz saxophone legends during the White House celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Next: This president played something a bit unusual.
3. Ronald Reagan
The 40th U.S. president had a career as an actor before he moved to the White House. Next, Ronald Reagan was governor of California. He survived an assassination attempt in 1981 and went on to serve two terms as president until 1989.
Maybe you know all those things about Reagan, but bet you didn’t know he was a harmonica player. Rumor has it, according to the website 89.3KPCC, that he had a teacher visit twice a week and that Bill Clinton’s sax playing got him interested in a musical instrument.
Next: Accordion and violin were this president’s instruments of choice.
4. Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon was one of the most musical presidents, according to Billboard. Not only was he a def accordion player, he was an accomplished pianist — he even wrote a concerto called “Richard Nixon Piano Concerto #1,” which he performed in 2963 on the “Jack Paar Program.”
Nixon also wasn’t shy — he showed off his skills at many events, including the Grand Ole Opry, where he played “God Bless America” on the and a White House performance for which he accompanied singer Pearl Bailey. Besides playing the piano, Nixon played second violin in his high school orchestra, according to the website Violinist.com.
Next: Read about the current president’s musical abilities.
5. Donald Trump
According to the BBC, Donald Trump might not be a musician, but he sure loves music. “There’s so much great music. For me, I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Elton John. I never get tired of listening to them and probably never will… Any album by any of them is bound to be fantastic. And besides that, Tony lives in one of my buildings,” said Trump. And his taste goes beyond the classics. “And by the way, I also love Eminem,” said Trump.
Donald Trump did perform once, however, when he attended the Emmys in Los Angeles because “The Apprentice” was nominated. He sang the TV show “Green Acres” theme, dressed in overalls and a straw hat — and holding a pitchfork.
Next: A presidential album
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower released an album titled “The President’s Favorite Music: Dwight D. Eisenhower” in 1956, according to Billboard. And the album’s cover showed him with first lady Mamie Eisenhower. The album is still available, and it features everything from Bach, Beethoven and Strauss to songs from “Porgy and Bess.”
Next: This president chose politics because he thought he wasn’t a great musician.
7. Harry Truman
Harry Truman was on his way to becoming a a concert piano player when he grew up — he used to wake up at 5 a.m. to get in some practice time before he went to school, according WFMT, a public media organization. When he turned 15, Truman suddenly stopped playing because he thought he wasn’t good enough.
“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,” said Truman. Although he didn’t play the piano for a living, he never lost his love for the instrument and played for the rest of his life.
Next: Rockin’ away at the White House
8. Calvin Coolidge
According to the website ClassRoomHelp.com, the 30th president of the United States liked someone to rub his head with Vaseline while he ate breakfast in bed. Um … interesting fact. Another interesting fact about Coolidge is that he, like Ronald Reagan, played the harmonica. He loved to sit in his rocking chair on the porch at the White House and play his jaw harp.
Next: This president played almost any instrument.
9. Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding had a pretty rough presidency — he wasn’t exactly a lovable guy. He could, however, carry a tune — and play almost any instrument, according to History. He even celebrated his nomination by playing the tuba at the Democratic convention in 1920.
Harding once said that he “played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.” He organized the Citizen’s Cornet Band, which played at rallies for both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
Next: A president who told the nation that music was a national need.
10. Woodrow Wilson
The 28th president of the United States created the League of Nations. And he played the violin and sang tenor in his college glee club. He grew up playing the violin, according to the website TopTenz, and it became more of a pastime as he got older. He never, though, lost his love for music. “Music now, more than ever before, is a national need,” said Wilson during World War I.
Next: A pickin’ president
11. Chester Alan Arthur
You might know the 21st president of the United States for his crazy sideburns. Or you might know that he became president only because President James A. Garfield was assassinated. But what you probably don’t know is that, according to TopTenz, Arthur played the banjo. An outdoorsman at heart, Arthur spent many hours playing his instrument and honing his craft.
Next: A secret player?
12. Abraham Lincoln
Looking at Abraham Lincoln, you might not conjure “musician” as your first thought. But the 16th president of the United States not only issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he played the violin. Not too much is known about Lincoln’s violin playing, according to the National Association for Music Education, aka NafMe. It’s probably a fair statement to say he must have been serious about playing because he was serious about everything else.
Next: Law won over music.
13. John Tyler
The 10th president of the United States dreamed of becoming a concert violinist, according to Top Tenz. His father taught him to play for years, but he eventually decided to study law. Once his presidency ended, Tyler spent a lot of his time playing the instrument, entertaining guests and performing duets with his wife Julia, a guitarist. Rumor has it that Tyler even organized his 15 kids into a minstrel band.
Next: A modest musical president.
14. John Quincy Adams
The sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, created the Monroe Doctrine and ended wars. He was also an accomplished flutist, according to Top Tenz. While he attended Harvard, he created flute compositions including “Lesson by Morelli” and “York Fuzileers.”
“I am extremely fond of music, and by dint of great pains have learnt to blow very badly the flute. I console myself with the idea of being an American, and therefore not susceptible of great musical powers,” said Adams. What a modest man.
Next: Music was the passion of his soul.
15. Thomas Jefferson
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson said that music “is the favorite passion of my soul,” according to Billboard. Jefferson loved to sing and there are reports that he played the violin, clavichord, and cello. His favorite composer was Joseph Haydn.
He owned at least three violins during his life and his repertoire included concertos by Handel, Boccherini, and Vivaldi. After he said that music was the favorite passion of his soul, Jefferson added, “ … fortune has cast my lot in a country where it [music] is in a state of deplorable barbarism.”
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